Poles protest govt policies ousting some mayors and judges

Poles protest govt policies ousting some mayors and judges

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Braving the cold and rain, hundreds of Poles protested Saturday in Warsaw against plans by the conservative government to curb the power of local governments and to subject the judiciary to the ruling party's control.

With national white-and-red colors, trumpets and European Union flags, they marched from the prime minister's office past the presidential palace. The protest was organized by a civic opposition group, the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, which has held mass protests against the sweeping changes the ruling conservative Law and Justice party is implementing in order to consolidate its rule.

The group's leader, Mateusz Kijowski, told the crowd that Law and Justice is destroying basic civic values.

"Bit by bit, they are taking Poland from us. They are taking away our democracy, they are taking away our freedom," he said.

He was referring to government plans to change the rules of local elections that would lead to the ouster of most city mayors, who are not party loyalists. He also was referring to changes in the judiciary that promote the party's backers.

In a latest move, party lawmakers have questioned the legality of the appointment in 2014 of the head of the Supreme Court.

President Andrzej Duda, meanwhile, signed into law the government's new rules for street gatherings. The law gives precedence to recurrent events, like the marches that the ruling party has held since 2010 in memory of the late President Lech Kaczynski, the twin brother of the ruling party's leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The president's doubts about these regulations were overruled earlier this week by the Constitutional Tribunal, which the ruling party has taken control of.

European Union leaders say some Polish government policies threaten the rule of law and democracy.

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