Hundreds of thousands demand change in Poland protest

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw for one of Poland’s largest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989.

Most opposition parties have called on supporters to join the march against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Among those in attendance were former Prime Minister Donald Tusk and former President Lech Walesa.

PiS condemned the gathering as a “march of hatred”.

The Warsaw mayor’s office estimated half a million people attended the event, which took place on the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first partially free elections.

Many people came from across the country to take part, and simultaneous protests were held in other Polish cities such as Krakow.

Various issues have led to the protests together, including frustration over inflation, the cost of living, and women’s and LGBT rights.

Concerns have also been raised about the new law allegedly undermining Poland’s democracy.

The law, which has been criticized by the EU and the US, establishes a commission to investigate Russia’s undue influence in Polish politics and has the power to ban people from holding public office for 10 years.

Polish investigation into ‘Russian influence’ angers EU
The government denies it is undermining democracy and President Andrzej Duda has proposed amendments to remove these powers.

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But critics say it can still be used against everyone, including Mr Tusk – leader of Poland’s main opposition and head of the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party. .

Opponents say it could also strengthen PiS’s position in this year’s parliamentary elections.

Images of crowds waving Polish and EU flags and holding banners, and participants telling the BBC that protesters were chanting “democracy” and “we will win”.

One protester told Reuters news agency: “I’m here to defend democracy because I can’t stand the destruction of our parliament, the destruction of the constitutional court, the decline of the European Union.

Donald Tusk, former head of the European Council, also greeted supporters in a “record” march.

Mr Tusk said: “Democracy dies in silence but today you have spoken for democracy, silence is over, we will scream.

Prior to the event, PiS accused the organizers of hypocrisy, posting a video on Twitter of police brutality and violence against the media while Mr. Tusk was in office.

Wojciech Przybylski, editor of Visegrad Insight, told the BBC that these protests show that Poland’s opposition groups can unite for a common goal, despite their political differences.

But PiS still leads in opinion polls, he added, and “this will mobilize them, because they know the opposition is real.”

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