WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Warsaw’s mayor on Thursday criticized police for using tear gas on mostly female protesters at the latest in a string of women-led protests against a top court ruling restricting abortion.
Political tensions have been extremely high in Poland since the constitutional court ruled last month to impose a near total ban on abortion. The government has yet to publish the ruling, which would enshrine it as law, because of the huge pressure from the mass street protests.
Meanwhile, a standoff with the European Union and a surge in coronavirus infections — with a record number of 637 deaths in one day recorded Thursday — as well as frustration over the government’s handling of the pandemic are all contributing to a sense of deepening crisis in the country.
According to reports in Polish media, plainclothes police with batons used force on some of the protesters Wednesday night.
“Tear gas against women? Really, Polish police?” Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski tweeted after a protest in Warsaw that was smaller than many of the demonstrations of past weeks.
“The use of direct coercion must be justified and proportionate, it must be a last resort. I believe there was no reason to use it against women’s and youth demonstrations. There were many more policemen than protesters,” said Trzaskowski, who is a liberal opponent of the nation’s conservative government.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told parliament Thursday that the police officers used force because they found themselves “under attack” from the protesters.
Protesters had meant to create a blockade of the parliament building, but were prevented from doing so by a large contingent of police vans, forcing the demonstrators to gather elsewhere in the city.
Emotions were high on the streets and inside the parliamentary chamber.
A lawmaker who had her parliamentary pass ripped apart by police amid the protests outside confronted Poland’s most powerful politician, ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, during the parliamentary session, accusing him of causing the turmoil in the country.
Kaczynski in turn accused oppositions lawmakers of having “blood on your hands” for supporting the mass protests, which he alleged were contributing to the massive spike in coronavirus infections.
When opposition politicians chanted at Kaczynski that he deserved to be in prison, he retorted that they were the ones who belonged behind bars.