Poles protest on anniversary of communist-era crackdown

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Police in riot gear block the path of anti-government protesters trying to reach the home of the ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday Dec. 13, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters demonstrated in Warsaw in the latest large protest after a high court ruled in October to further tighten the country's already restrictive abortion law. Sunday's protest was scheduled to coincide with the 39th anniversary of the 1981 martial law crackdown by the country's communist regime. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW – Thousands marched Sunday in Warsaw and other Polish cities to protest the country's right-wing government, the latest demonstrations after a high court ruled to tighten the country's already restrictive abortion law.

Sunday’s protests coincided with the 39th anniversary of the 1981 martial law crackdown by Poland's communist regime. Many Poles accuse the current government of acting more and more like that authoritarian regime by disregarding the civil liberties of citizens.

Due to a ban on gatherings by more than five people amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the marches were organized as “spontaneous walks" and the slogan was: “We are going for freedom. We are going for everything!"

The protests were organized by the Women’s Strike, a group behind recent mass nationwide protests. Others also joined in, including farmers and entrepreneurs angry at the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The weeks of protests have morphed into the largest protest movement in Poland since communism fell three decades ago. An Oct. 22 ruling by the Polish constitutional court to ban abortions of fetuses with congenital defects, even when the fetus has no chance of survival at birth, sparked the protests, which have now grown to include other grievances.

“We are no longer fighting just for women’s rights, but for everyone’s rights. What is happening at this point is dramatic," said Adrianna Gluchowska, a protester joined by her father.

The protesters gathered at a central intersection and began marching to the home of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party. Riot police blocked the protesters, forcing them to take another route along the Vistula River to reach Kaczynski's home in the northern Zoliborz district.

Police announced on loudspeakers that the protest was illegal, saying “we have an epidemic." To that the protesters replied: “We have an epidemic of PiS,” using the Polish acronym for Law and Justice. “We are overthrowing the government!”

Many carried European Union and rainbow flags to show their support for liberal Western values. One protesters was dressed as a human-sized tear gas canister. Police in recent weeks have been using tear gas on protesters.

Kaczynski's apartment building was surrounded by hundreds of police officers in riot gear. Several people dressed in communist-era militia costumes managed to get near Kaczynski's home and were removed by police.

Smaller protests also were held Sunday in dozens of other cities, including Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan, Lodz and Szczecin.

Disgruntled farmers angry also protested overnight, leaving a large mound of eggs, potatoes and a dead pig in front of Kaczynski's home. The farmers said they are receiving too little for their produce and accused the government of failing to respond. Police fined four people for littering and blocking the street.