Sunday 22 April 2018

Protesting Poles sing for veto to court reforms

Protesting Poles sing for veto to court reforms
(AFP 04/23/18)

Thousands of Poles sang in protests across the country Thursday against controversial court reforms by the rightwing government, which opposition politicians and the EU insist undermine the rule of law and separation of powers.

Singing a protest song to the tune of a popular Christmas carol and holding lit candles, around a thousand demonstrators rallied in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw before marching to parliament.

Protestors demanded President Andrzej Duda veto two new laws passed by the rightwing dominated parliament last week that Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, has insisted "further erode the separation of powers and the rule of law."

"We expect the president to act against legislation that violates the constitution," one of the protest organisers, Weronika Waszewska, told protesters via a loudspeaker.

Similar demonstrations took place in dozens of Polish cities and towns, including Poznan, Szczecin and Gdansk, television and other media images showed.

Dominated by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, parliament adopted new version of the reforms of the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary that in July sparked massive street protests, concern from the US State Department and threats of EU sanctions.

Poland's new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday he expected the EU to impose unprecedented sanctions next week that could strip his government of its voting rights over the reforms.

The European Commission, the EU executive, will "probably activate" next Wednesday article seven of the EU treaty, which deals with violations of the rule of law, Morawiecki told reporters in his first EU summit in Brussels.

Actual sanctions against Poland must be approved by all remaining member states, meaning it could be vetoed by Budapest, which has also clashed with Brussels over democracy issues.

Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015, insists its reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

However, the commission has warned the reforms pose a threat to democratic principles and rule of law countries signed up to when they joined the European Union.

Warsaw has already come under heavy fire from Brussels for a string of earlier judicial reforms.

The PiS has also proposed a legislative reform to the electoral law that it says will reduce fraud, but the opposition has countered that it will instead lead to irregularities at the polls.

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