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More protest against Polish ruling party

September 25, 2016

Tens of thousands of Poles have staged a further protest in Warsaw against government policies that have also alarmed the EU. Their march began outside the constitutional court which is facing curbs to its powers.

Polen Warschau Demonstration Demokratie
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R.Guz

As many as 30,000 protestors assembled by Poland's Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) on Saturday decried court "reforms" pushed through by the populist arch-conservative PiS government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

Leftwing intellectual and former Solidarity dissident Adam Michnik told protestors that KOD did not want to overthrow the government but wanted what he called the "government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski" to respect Poland's existing constitution.

Polen Publizist Adam Michnik
Consequences at the ballot box, warns MichnikImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Kaczynski is widely regarded as the real powerbroker behind Szydlo's administration, although he holds no government office. Michnik said if PiS cabinet members did not comply "society will be obliged to remove them from power through democratic elections."

"We cannot accept politics that isolate Poland and trigger conflicts with neighbors," said Michnik, who is also a leading journalist.

Three-month deadline approaching

Warsaw is facing a deadline of late October to reverse its intended constitutional court changes or face sanctions for breaching EU norms on the rule of law and democracy.

Kaczynski has already described the sanctions scenario, including the loss of voting rights in EU institutions, as being "totally outside of the EU's treaties."

Polen Premierministerin Beata Szydlo
PiS party leader Kaczynski exerts considerable influence on Szydlo's govermentImage: picture-alliance/W. Dabkowski

Protesters on Saturday also denounced Polish lawmakers' moves to ban abortion and criticized a newly-announced school roll-back that would reverse a 1999 reform.

At a separate rally in Warsaw Saturday, Poles demanded more funds for the country's chronically strapped health care system and for its medical personnel.

The PiS maintains that the past eight-year tenure of Poland's previous centrist, pro-EU government did not serve ordinary Poles.

OSCE: broadcasting being 'undermined'

On Thursday, Europe's main rights and democracy watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), accused the PiS government of "undermining the independence of public service broadcasting in Poland."

Since taking power last year, the government has attained the right to appoint state broadcaster chiefs.

OSCE media freedoms representative Dunja Mijatovic said more than 120 broadcast journalists had been sacked.

Without a free media, Poland - which broke away from Soviet domination a quarter of a century ago - would be thrust back into the "dark ages," she said.

ipj/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)