Highlanders of Poland's Tatra mountains rebel against COVID closures

WARSAW, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Clad in the traditional attire of the Tatra mountains and flanked by supporters carrying flaming torches, a group of Polish business people have vowed to defy COVID-19 restrictions they say are killing their local economy.

Poland has extended its nationwide closure of hotels, restaurants and ski slopes until the end of the month, but anger is mounting among those who run small businesses in the mountainous south who say government aid is not enough to compensate them for their losses.

“We will end this madness... which wants to destroy Poland and Polishness, destroy the middle class, small and medium-sized enterprises and kill several hundred people a day,” said Sebastian Piton, who started the “Highlanders’ Veto” movement behind the declaration.

Piton said the movement would detail plans to reopen businesses on Thursday.

“I hope our action... will make all of central Europe get off this crazy train which is heading for destruction,” he said.

On Monday, Poland’s government said that around 1 billion zlotys ($270 million) would be allocated to help businesses in the mountains, which are heavily dependent on skiing.

“I understand the emotions, the situation in this sector is difficult,” Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller told public broadcaster Polskie Radio Program 1 on Tuesday.

“But opening now... would radically increase the number of cases and, unfortunately, deaths.”

Instances of Polish business owners losing patience and opening in defiance of the rules are increasing - a skating rink owner in the Polish city of Szczecin decided to operate his business as a flower shop to get around the rules.

Retailers are also considering suing the state over the restrictions, a lobby group said. ($1 = 3.7191 zlotys) (Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz Editing by Alexandra Hudson)