Thousands join Polish far-right Independence Day march, defying Warsaw ban

By Alan Charlish and Justyna Pawlak WARSAW (Reuters) - Thousands of people took part in an annual far-right march in Warsaw to mark Poland's Independence Day on Wednesday, defying a ban imposed by city hall due to coronavirus restrictions. Planned as a drive through the capital's main roads to circumvent the ban, the march spilled into the streets, with police in riot gear using pepper spray to break up sporadic violence along the route

Reuters November 12, 2020 00:11:07 IST
Thousands join Polish far-right Independence Day march, defying Warsaw ban

Thousands join Polish farright Independence Day march defying Warsaw ban

By Alan Charlish and Justyna Pawlak

WARSAW (Reuters) - Thousands of people took part in an annual far-right march in Warsaw to mark Poland's Independence Day on Wednesday, defying a ban imposed by city hall due to coronavirus restrictions.

Planned as a drive through the capital's main roads to circumvent the ban, the march spilled into the streets, with police in riot gear using pepper spray to break up sporadic violence along the route.

Warsaw police said on Twitter that several of its officers had been injured. Footage on social media showed flares being hurled at police.

Marchers carried red-and-white Polish flags amidst clouds of smoke from red flares and held up banners that read "Our civilisation, our rules".

Footage posted on social media showed flames coming from the window of a flat near the demonstrations. A Warsaw fire brigade spokesman said the blaze was probably caused by a flare or firecracker, and that nobody had been hurt in the incident.

The annual event has become a point of friction between far-right groups and supporters of the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on one side, and their liberal opponents on the other.

Authorities in Warsaw, which is governed by a centrist mayor, accused the state-run police force of facilitating the march.

"The law is being broken here," said Karolina Galecka, a city hall spokeswoman. "Police have spent 12 hours preparing to secure the march, we were not informed about this ... and at this point you could say the police are co-organising it."

The Warsaw police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

A far-right lawmaker called on protesters to "rebel in the name of values and national unity".

"The left tells you it is offering freedom. What kind of freedom is it? It's freedom to drink, take drugs and have free sex. That's all the freedom they have to offer," Robert Winnicki said, surrounded by a crowd which broke into chants of "God, honour, fatherland."

Cars snaked across a major bridge in Warsaw, honking their horns surrounded by crowds of pedestrians, some carrying religious symbols or banners showing the Communist hammer and sickle emblem crossed out.

Before the march, groups of motorcyclists revved their engines, sending clouds of smoke into the air.

A truck with a banner "No to Jewish demands" also appeared, in an apparent reference to far-right groups' opposition to any return of property taken from Jews during the Holocaust.

Another truck bore the slogan "Normal family - strong Poland", a phrase used by right-wing parties in Poland to express their resistance to LGBT rights.

Social tensions have been on the rise in Poland, amid a deepening polarisation spurred by the government's efforts to instil conservative values.

Warsaw has seen several other large protests in recent weeks, sparked by a ruling by the Constitutional Court which introduced a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.

The country has seen soaring numbers of coronavirus infections, with the total number of cases more than quadrupling in a month.

(Reporting by Alicja Ptak, Alan Charlish and Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Nick Macfie, Peter Graff and Mike Collett-White)

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