Protests in Poland in support of constitutional court

Tens of thousands rallied in Warsaw, critical of government moves to curtail the judiciary's power.

Kacper Pempel/Reuters
Protesters in Warsaw on Saturday carry a giant Polish flag as they demonstrate against government initiatives they say will weaken the constitution.

Tens of thousands of Poles held street protests in Warsaw and other cities on Saturday in opposition to government moves that have paralyzed the constitutional court, something seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the Central European nation.

The largest demonstration took place in the capital, where a large crowd rallied in front of the Constitutional Tribunal and then marched across town to the palace of the president, who has played a key role in the crisis. Protesters at the front of the march carried a large banner saying, "let's bring back the constitutional order." City hall estimated that 50,000 people took part.

Protests, also staged in Poznan and Wroclaw, were organized to show support for the beleaguered court and to urge the conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, to roll back changes that have undermined the court's ability to act as a check on government power.

Critics decry the moves that have neutralized the court as an attack on Polish democracy, which was won thanks to years of sacrifice by Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement in the 1980s. There have been frequent street protests in the past three months.

Also Saturday, the government, which remains popular with its conservative electorate, said that it still refuses to publish a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal that struck down the legislative amendments passed in December that have blocked the court and plunged the nation into crisis.

Refusing to publish the ruling prevents it from becoming binding. The announcement by government spokesman Rafal Bochenek indicates a resolution is still nowhere in sight.

The left-wing Together party, which has held protests in front of the prime minister's office for several days, plans a public reading of the constitution Saturday evening.

On Friday, the Venice Commission, an international human rights body, said democracy is threatened by government moves that have "crippled" the constitutional court. It said refusing to publish the judgment would violate the rule of law and further deepen the crisis.

Bochenek said the commission's opinion would be sent to the parliament so all political sides could seek a resolution.

The crisis, which has caused concern in the European Union and the United States, appears to be the most serious since Poland threw off communism in 1989.

The government, however, denies that democracy is threatened.

"Democracy is fine, very fine," Beata Kempa, a leading official in the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, said recently. "We don't send police with bullets against people. They are allowed to express their views here."

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