World News

Thousands rally to support Polish government after opposition protest

WARSAW (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people marched through Warsaw on Sunday to express support for the ruling conservatives, as Poland remained locked in a constitutional crisis over the appointment of judges who could help the government pass its legislative programme.

Supporters of Law and Justice party walk with a picture of Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo during pro-government demonstration in Warsaw, Poland December 13, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The march took place a day after a large anti-government protest, highlighting the depth of divisions, which have become more prominent since the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) won an outright majority in October’s election.

PiS say the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party, which ruled Poland between 2007 and 2015, are refusing the accept the result and trying to stop it from executing its mandate.

The conflict between the two parties has defined Poland’s political stage for nearly a decade, but the temperature rose after the new government appointed five out of 15 judges to the constitutional court, a move the opposition says was illegal.

PiS says the judges needed to be replaced to ensure the balance of power, and that it was the previous government that broke the law when they made the original appointments.

Gaining control of the court is vital for the party. It may determine whether PiS is able to implement its flagship policy plans, such as overhauling the retirement system.

Waving Polish flags and PiS party banners, the demonstrators chanted the names of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS-backed President Andrzej Duda, who also took office this year.

“We won the election, but we have no right to set laws and remodel Poland,” Kaczynski told the crowds before they marched towards the constitutional court building.

“This court is supposed to be the stronghold ... defending the system, defending all that has been bad and disgraceful in the last 26 years,” Kaczynski then said outside the court, referring to the time since Poland’s transition from communism.

The long-planned rally took place on the anniversary of the imposition of the 1981 martial law, the communist crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union.

Writing by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Alison Williams