Polish national day rallies turn violent

Riot police break up rival crowds of protesters in Warsaw as independence day holiday becomes a trigger for clashes.

    Polish national day rallies turn violent
    Predominantly Catholic society is deeply split over issues such as abortion, gay rights and religious tolerance [Reuters]

    Police have clashed with protesters in Poland during a national holiday in the capital, Warsaw.

    Sunday's clashes saw riot police wielding truncheons to break up crowds of protesters pelting them with firecrackers and lumps of concrete after a parade to mark the national holiday turned violent.

    "Poland is going in ... the direction of dependency, energy dependency, economic dependency," said one of the demonstrators, who gave his name as Wojciech to the Reuters news agency.

    Thousands of police had earlier lined the streets of Warsaw to try to stop nationalists and left-wing groups from using the independence day holiday as an opportunity to fight each other.

    It was the second year the celebrations have become violent, underlining the divide between those who want a conservative, religious society that rejects foreign influence and those who want Poland to join the European mainstream.

    As demonstrators gathered for the right-wing rally, young men with their faces covered by scarves chanted nationalist
    slogans.

    The fighting started when some of the right-wing protesters threw firecrackers and projectiles at police in riot gear who
    had cordoned off the area.

    A correspondent for the Reuters news agency saw police respond by beating protesters with truncheons, forcing them to disperse into nearby streets.

    Some demonstrators tore off chunks of concrete at a construction site to use as missiles.

    Police used loud-hailers to warn protesters they would use rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas.

    Excessive rows

    Bronislaw Komorowski, Polish president, addressing the official independence day parade in Warsaw a few hours before
    the violence broke out, appealed for a less polarised society.

    "Today public life is poisoned by excessive rows," he said.

    "We should be critical, but criticism should not mean mutual destruction."

    On the same date last year, right-wing demonstrators set fire to a television van and fought pitched battles with police
    who were trying to prevent them attacking a counter-demonstration by left-wing protesters.

    Poland is experiencing a period of peace and prosperity.

    Donald Tusk, prime minister, a liberal, is credited by many Poles for bringing political stability.

    But the predominantly Catholic society is deeply split over issues such as abortion, gay rights and religious tolerance.

    Most of the time the argument is conducted in reasonably civil terms, though extremists on the margins of each camp often get violent.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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