Thousands turn out for Poland's Freedom march

Warsaw (AFP) –


Thousands of people marched in Warsaw on Saturday to defend rights they say are threatened by the ruling nationalist government's policies and to demonstrate support for the European Union.

"We're going to fight for freedom, dignity, democracy, a free Poland at the heart of the European Union as that's the most important," Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the centrist Civic Platform, the main opposition party, told the marchers.

A recent poll put support for his party and liberal ally Nowoczesna at a combined 33.4 percent, just three percent behind the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Around 10 percent of Poles support the left which has no current parliamentary representation.

Brandishing bannners in patriotic red and white as well as EU flags, people gathered in warm sunshine by the Charles de Gaulle monument in central Warsaw and marched some two kilometres (1.2 miles) to the Royal castle, former official residence of Polish monarchs, at the entrance to the old town.

"I am here because Poland is starting to become isolated (in Europe) thanks to the actions of our government, and to show that there are many people in Poland who back the European Union and the values it represents," 32-year-old IT worker Magdalena Jarosz told AFP.

Controversial judicial reforms the PiS has brought to the table has sparked concern not just among many Poles but in Brussels, which last year identified "systemic threats" to the independence of the Polish judiciary.

Brussels has since warned that the EU said it could suspend, cut or restrict access to funding as a result and warned that it might resort to wielding the EU's Article 7 which could see a suspension of Warsaw's voting rights.