nsucurrent.com May 23, 2018

Anti-govt protesters march in Polish cities

23 July 2017, 12:43 | Colleen Roy

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Bulgaria Thousands Protest in Poland Against Court Reorganizations

The demonstration began at 7 p.m. Friday outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw after more than 100,000 people gathered in major cities the previous evening urging President Andrzej Duda to veto the legislation.

Two other bills on a key judicial body and on regular courts also await Duda's signature.

People attend a protest against supreme court legislation in Wroclaw, Poland, Friday.

Since coming into power in 2015, the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to tighten government influence over courts, and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

An opinion poll for private television TVN showed on Friday that 55 percent of respondents said President Andrzej Duda should veto the overhaul of the judiciary, 29 percent said he should not veto it.

European Union leaders say the bill will kill judicial independence and threaten the rule of law in the EU's largest member in central and Eastern Europe.

Thursday's bill on the Supreme Court has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests.

Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf says, on average, the court takes seven months to rule on a case — but she calls that a good result, even by European standards, given that the court handles the most hard and complicated matters.

The commission also urged the Polish government to put its new laws on hold.

In her nationwide speech, Beata Szydlo said that the legislation was prompted by public criticism of the legal system's inefficiency and blamed the outcry it has triggered on the opposition's "frustration".

Tusk said the steps the Polish government is taking toward the judiciary would allow it to limit social freedoms if it wants. "We will not be intimidated by Polish and foreign defenders of the interests of the elite". Critics concede that the judiciary needs reform, but that the proposed changes are going in the wrong direction. The bill passed 235-192 with 23 abstentions.

European Union president, Donald Tusk, Poland's former prime minister, has appealed to President Andrzej Duda for a meeting to seek ways out of the situation that, he said, goes against EU values and is destructive to Poland's global image.

Duda won election as a Law and Justice member but has left the party in accord with Poland's tradition of a nonpartisan presidency.

Proposed by the populist party, it gives politicians control over Poland's Supreme Court, and critics say it kills judicial independence.

"Poland's president should be concerned about a situation that is, let's say, serious", Tusk said.

After more than 15 hours of debate, the upper house of the Polish parliament approved its judicial reform bill which Brussels has warned might cost Warsaw certain rights in the European Council. Duda formerly belonged to PiS, but as president is considered an independent whose responsibility it is to stand up to PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who is often considered the country's de facto leader.

While PiS remains broadly popular among many Poles, particularly poorer and older voters from the countryside, there have been widespread protests against the plans.

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