Poles Protest Their Populist Govt With Large Rally in Warsaw

Warsaw, Poland (AP) -- Thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw on Saturday to protest the policies of the populist ruling party under Jaroslaw Kaczynski, describing them as attacks on the country's democracy.

Speakers at the "March of Freedom" said the government under the conservative Law and Justice party has eroded the independence of Poland's courts and other institutions to such an extent that the country would not be accepted into the European Union or NATO today if it didn't already belong.

"We will not allow Kaczynski to take us out of Western Europe. Together we will defend freedom," said Jacek Jaskowiak, the mayor of Poznan, a city in western Poland.

The event was organized by the opposition Civic Platform party, but other opposition parties and the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, a civic organization, also took part.

They are concerned about how Law and Justice has consolidated power since taking office in 2015. The party has eroded the independence of the courts and the public media in a way that has also alarmed the EU.

Kaczynski said Saturday that the protesters were misguided.

"Freedom exists in Poland and only those who do not perceive reality can question that," he said.

City Hall, which is under the control of Civic Platform, estimated that 90,000 people took part in the protest. The police, under the government's command, put the number at 12,000.

Either way, it was much smaller than the 240,000 who protested against the government in May 2016.

Separately, a yearly pro-EU parade called the Schumann Parade also took place Saturday in Warsaw.

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