Poland's former leaders criticize government amid conflict

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's former presidents and other leaders expressed "anxiety and opposition" on Tuesday at what they say is the new government's assault on the authority and independence of the Constitutional Tribunal.

The ruling conservative Law and Justice party, which has a parliamentary majority and an ally in President Andrzej Duda, has taken steps to gain influence in the tribunal, which is supposed to be an independent arbiter with the power to block the government's legislation. Law and Justice wants to place five loyal judges in the 15-member court.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski believes that without influence in the tribunal he will not be able to implement the sweeping social and political reforms he has promised. He says the ruling party is being denied its right to rule on behalf of the majority of voters.

But the opposition, which recently lost power, and law experts say Kaczynski's moves are unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Fifteen opposition politicians published their statement in the pro-EU Gazeta Wyborcza daily on Tuesday, defending the court as the "guardian of the accordance of new laws with the constitution."

They said that observing the rule of law is especially important when "all the power is in the hands of one political option."

"Every power passes," the statement said. "A democratic Poland will survive!"

Among those who signed are former presidents Bronislaw Komorowski and Aleksander Kwasniewski and recent foreign ministers Radek Sikorski and Grzegorz Schetyna.

Speaking separately on private Radio Zet, former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa called for a national referendum on whether the terms of the new government and the new president should be cut short.

The ruling party's long-term goal is to change the constitution and strengthen the president. The opposition is seeking ways to call early elections.

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