Thousands gather in Warsaw for an opposition rally ahead of close elections

WARSAW, Oct. 1 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people gathered for an opposition rally in Warsaw on Sunday, two weeks before elections that the liberal Civic Platform party says could decide Poland’s future in the European Union and its democratic standing. .

Opinion polls indicate that the nationalist Law and Justice Party government may win the elections, but it may face difficulties in forming a majority, amid some dissatisfaction with the high costs of living and concern about the erosion of democratic checks and balances.

The opposition hopes that Sunday’s march will be the largest in decades and will motivate voters to participate in the elections.

“Big change is coming. This is a sign of Poland’s rebirth,” Donald Tusk, the leader of the Labor Party, told crowds gathered in a square in central Warsaw, many waving Polish and European Union flags.

Tusk, a former president of the European Council, said PiS might aim to take Poland out of the European Union, something the party denies, and described the elections as crucial for the rights of minorities and women.

The Law and Justice Party, which has been in power since 2015, campaigned on a pledge to keep migrants out of Poland, saying it was essential for national security, and to continue funneling money towards families and the elderly.

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“I want to be free, to be in the European Union, I want to have a say, I want to have free courts,” said Hana Chasiewicz, a 59-year-old dentist from Otok, a town outside Warsaw.

Public Radio and Television, which independent media observers say has become a mouthpiece for the government under Law and Justice Party rule, quoted police as saying that about 100,000 people joined Sunday’s march.

Tusk said nearly a million people attended.

Some carried signs reading “PiSexit” or “The cat can stay,” in reference to the pet owned by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The Law and Justice Party denies Western criticism that it undermines democratic norms and says its reforms to the judiciary aim to make the country more just and free of the remnants of communism, while its changes to public media rid them of foreign influence.

But it has not yet been able to access billions of euros in EU coronavirus recovery funds that Brussels has withheld due to Polish court reforms.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told marchers: “Everyone is investing in jobs, in the fight against climate catastrophe. We are deprived of this money because someone decided to destroy democracy in Poland.”

(Reporting by Justina Pawlak, Marek Strzelecki and Koba Stezecki – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Hugh Lawson

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