Thousands March on Independence Day as Police Converge on Warsaw

  • No major incidents reported during march, according to police
  • Recent marches were marred by violence, clashes with police

A march in Warsaw got under way to commemorate Poland’s Independence Day on Wednesday, with the capital bracing for a confrontation after similar demonstrations in past years were marred by violence.

The Independence March, which started at 2 p.m. in the Polish capital, was expected to be attended by 50,000 people, Ewa Gawor, director of the city’s security and crisis management office, said on Tuesday. It’s one of the events planned during the national holiday to mark the anniversary of the country gaining autonomy from Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1918, following 123 years of partitions.

The annual march, organized by the National Front group, is a showcase for politicians seeking to revive Polish nationalism and calling the European Union the biggest threat to the country’s sovereignty. This year it follows wins in presidential and parliamentary elections by Law & Justice, a party that pledged to fight for national interests and shun the “EU mainstream.”

Wednesday’s march was proceeding calmly and no major incidents were reported, police spokesman Mariusz Mrozek said by phone. Krzysztof Bosak, a spokesman for the Independence March, estimated that about 100,000 people were taking part. Warsaw City Hall put the number of participants at 15,000.

Stones, Flares

Police used water cannons and rubber bullets last year to disperse a group of masked rioters who broke away from the march and hurled stones and flares, destroying traffic signs and bus stops in downturn Warsaw. In 2013, a guard’s booth was burnt down near the Russian embassy and clashes left 12 police officers injured. A cameraman was beaten and 176 arrests were made three years ago.

With similar demonstrations planned in other Polish cities on Wednesday, IBM Corp. told its international personnel in the western Polish city of Wroclaw to stay away from the gatherings, which may be “racist” in character, Agnieszka Koizumi, a company spokeswoman, told Poland’s public radio.

Warsaw will bring in additional police forces to strengthen security for the march and have “several thousand” officers on hand, police spokesman Mariusz Mrozek said on Tuesday. Drones will be banned from the city while police will deploy helicopters to monitor the area, according to Mrozek.

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