Thousands join Polish Independence Day march

People wave flags and burn flares during a march marking the National Independence Day in Warsaw, Poland

On Wednesday, thousands of people took part in an annual march in Warsaw to mark Poland’s Independence Day.

Planned as a drive through the capital’s main roads to avoid the COVID ban, the march spilled into the streets, with police in riot gear using pepper spray to break up occasional violence along the route.

Warsaw police said on Twitter that many of its officers had been injured. Footage on social media showed flares being hurled at police.

Marchers carried red-and-white Polish flags amidst clouds of smoke from red flares and held up banners that read “Our civilization, our rules”.

Footage posted on social media showed flames coming from the window of a flat near the marches. A Warsaw fire brigade spokesman said a flare or firecracker probably caused the blaze and that nobody had been hurt in the incident.

The annual event has become a point of friction between the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on one side and their liberal opponents on the other.

Authorities in Warsaw, governed by a centrist mayor, accused the state-run police force of facilitating the march.

“The law is being broken here,” said Karolina Galecka, a city hall spokeswoman. “Police have spent 12 hours preparing to secure the march, we were not informed about this … and at this point you could say the police are co-organizing it.”

The Warsaw police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

A lawmaker called on protesters to “rebel in the name of values and national unity”.

“The left tells you it is offering freedom. What kind of freedom is it? It’s freedom to drink, take drugs, and have free sex. That’s all the freedom they have to offer,” Robert Winnicki said, surrounded by a crowd which broke into chants of “God, honour, fatherland.”

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