EU Parliament chief asks Poland to ensure MEPs' safety after far-right protest

WARSAW (Reuters) - The president of the European Parliament said on Monday he would ask Poland’s prime minister to ensure the security of Polish members of the assembly after a far-right protest staged a symbolic hanging of the politicians.

On Saturday a few dozen people in the southern Polish city of Katowice hanged the portraits of politicians who backed a European Parliament resolution calling on the Polish government to condemn “the xenophobic and fascist march” held on Poland’s Independence Day on Nov. 11.

“I will write to PM Beata Szydlo to ensure the security of elected members of the European Parliament to express their opinions independently, without threat, and oppose those who spread hatred by exhibiting outrageous pictures of hanged politicians,” Antonio Tajani said on Twitter.

Poland’s socially conservative, euroskeptic government came under fire from the EU and human rights group for allowing far-right marchers - who were among some 60,000 people at the Nov. 11 rally - to brandish banners with racist slogans such as “pure blood, clear mind” or “Europe will be white or uninhabited”.

Leading members of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) joined other politicians in denouncing the use of hate speech at the rally, but critics said their response was too slow.

The PiS government has been increasingly at loggerheads with Brussels since sweeping to power two years ago over what the EU sees as its flouting of democratic rules.

“One has to condemn what happened in Katowice,” Szydlo said.

However, she added that if she received Tajani’s letter she would also ask him to “keep an eye on those MPs who insult and slander Poland in the European Parliament”.

Organisers of the Saturday protest told the local news portal that they were expressing their opposition to the “slanderous voices” against Poles “expressing their pride during the Independence Day March”.

The pictures showed six members of the European parliament (MEPs) who belong to the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party. The economically liberal, pro-EU PO party governed Poland for eight years until its defeat by PiS in the 2015 national election.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said prosecutors would look into the Katowice protest. He said he “doesn’t like” what happened, but he also blamed the opposition, saying that in their protests they also displayed “aggression”.

“An action triggers a reaction,” Ziobro told the public Trojka radio station.

Writing by Lidia Kelly; Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieska Barteczko; Editing by Gareth Jones