Thousands March against Polish Government as Constitutional Spat Drags On

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Tens of thousands marched through Warsaw to protest what they called measures against rule of law by the the month-old conservative government, as Poland remained locked in a constitutional crisis.

Thousands March against Polish Government as Constitutional Spat Drags On

Waving Polish and European Union flags, the protesters on Saturday chanted: "We want the constitution, not a revolution," demanding that the government respect the rule of law.

The constitutional clash began when the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, which scored a landmark election win in October, appointed five out of 15 judges to the highest judicial body, in a move the opposition described as illegal.

PiS denies the charge. It said judges in the constitutional court need to be replaced to ensure the balance of power in the body, and that it was the previous government that broke the law when they made the original appointments.

"Those appointments were made based on a faulty law," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said. "We are only fixing the law," Reuters reported.

Gaining control of the court is key for the party. It may determine whether PiS is able to implement its flagship policy plans, such as overhauling the retirement system and curbing foreign ownership of banks, moves the court could block.

"The current constitutional court is a stronghold of everything that's wrong with Poland," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told private broadcaster Republika. "All of our moves can be undermined (by it) in an arbitrary way."

Critics say the government is emulating Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in trying to impose its political agenda by pushing the boundaries of democracy.

"DEMOCRACY IN DANGER"

An opinion poll conducted for public television has showed that just over half of Poles believe democracy is under threat. The Saturday march was attended by non-partisan organisations and opposition parties.

"Today, it's an assault on the constitutional court, tomorrow, it could be an assault on our freedom," said Ryszard Petru, a former World Bank economist who now leads the pro-market Modern party, Poland's fourth parliamentary force.

A Warsaw city official said up to 50,000 people took part. The protesters included economist Leszek Balcerowicz, who designed Poland's shock therapy transition from communism.

"This is Warsaw, not Budapest!," chanted the protesters. Smaller demonstrations took place in other cities.

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