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Anti-govt protesters march in Polish cities

Anti-govt protesters march in Polish cities”

The spokesman for Poland's president says the leader sees flaws in contentious legislation adopted by the Senate that gives politicians significant influence over the nation's top court.

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.

The opposition warned that the Senate's decision, which followed a stormy debate in both houses of parliament, undermined judicial independence and accused Poland's ruling conservatives of trying to stack courts with its own candidates.

Law & Justice has been rushing through its reform, which would force into immediate retirement all Supreme Court judges with little or no debate and without consulting the judiciary.

The president has 21 days to sign it, and is not expected to do it before his meeting Monday with the head of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf.

Saying that the laws "would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland", the Commission urged Poland's leaders to hold off on making any changes and return to talks with the European Union that have been going on since January of 2016.

Tens of thousands have protested - with rallies and candle-lit vigils - even the former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa addressed crowds in Gdansk in scenes reminiscent of the 1980's.

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European Union officials disagree, and if the Supreme Court measure goes into effect, it could trigger an effort in Brussels to strip Poland of its voting rights in decisions of the bloc - a never-invoked nuclear option. The EU has criticized the legislation and has threatened to impose sanctions on Poland.

But the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system. The lower house of Parliament gave its approval earlier this week.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo says the legislation is an internal matter and the government will not bow to any foreign pressure. Critics say it kills judicial independence and violates the rule of law.

Duda has so far not accepted an invitation for talks on the issue from European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

Critics at home and overseas say the legislation is part of a drift towards authoritarianism by the government, which espouses nationalist rhetoric coupled with left-leaning economic policy. Only the country's president now stands in the way of what critics have called a move to authoritarianism.

The threat to the independence of the Supreme Court is the latest maneuver by the right-wing party, which gained power in 2015, to bring the judiciary under its control.

In Poland, past presidents, activists and rights groups were among those to speak out against the judicial reforms, raising concerns about the erosion of laws and freedoms in Poland. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, amid large street protests against the party's plan for the judiciary.



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