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Pro-EU rallies draw tens of thousands in Poland

Czechs in post-vote limbo as president rushed to hospital

10 October, 20:19
(ANSA) - WARSAW, 10 OTT - Tens of thousands of Poles rallied on Sunday in defence of their country's EU membership, after Poland's top court last week issued a landmark ruling against the primacy of EU law. The pro-EU demonstrations were called by former EU chief Donald Tusk, now leader of the country's main opposition grouping, Civic Platform, who has warned of the prospect of a "Polexit". "Tens of thousands of people in Warsaw and in over 100 cities and towns across Poland have come to protest what this government is doing to our homeland," Tusk told a massive crowd in the capital awash with the EU's star-studded blue flags. Tusk asked people to "defend a European Poland" after a wave of criticism against the ruling both at home and from around the European Union. Membership of the bloc remains very popular according to opinion polls but relations between Warsaw and Brussels have become strained since the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015. The main bone of contention is a wide-ranging reform of the judiciary wanted by PiS, which the European Union fears will undermine judicial independence and roll back democratic freedoms. The latest twist in the long-running dispute was the ruling on Thursday from Poland's Constitutional Court, a body which government opponents say is stacked with PiS allies and therefore illegitimate. The ruling challenged the primacy of EU law over Polish law in all cases by declaring key articles in the EU treaties "incompatible" with the Polish constitution. The court also warned EU institutions not to "act beyond the scope of their competences" by interfering with Poland's judicial reforms. "I'm here because I'm afraid we'll leave the EU. It is very important, especially for my granddaughter," Warsaw resident Elzbieta Morawska, 64, told AFP. "Britain has just left the EU and it's a tragedy, if Poland leaves now, it'll also be a tragedy," Aleksander Winiarski, 20, a Pole studying in England, told AFP at the Warsaw rally. "This government has overstepped all boundaries -- this is a mafia state," Beata, a 40-year-old manager in a Warsaw media company who declined to reveal her family name, told AFP. Protesters lit up a central square with their mobile phones, sang the national anthem and chanted "We're staying!" - 'Legal Polexit' - Brussels warned ahead of the court judgment that the case could have "consequences" for EU pandemic recovery grants and cheap loans for Poland. Analysts have called the ruling a "legal Polexit", saying that it could pave the way for Poland one day leaving the European Union. The government has ruled out the prospect, however. A day after the ruling, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the process of Poland joining the EU in 2004 was "one of the highlights of the last decades" for both Poland and the EU. "Poland's place is and will be in the European family of nations," he wrote on Facebook. He said the principle of the superiority of constitutional law over EU law had already been stated by courts in other EU member states. "We have the same rights as other countries. We want these rights to be respected. We are not an uninvited guest in the European Union. And that's why we don't agree to be treated as a second-class country," Morawiecki wrote. The government has to make a decision to officially publish the ruling for it to have legal force. Experts have said that it may move cautiously in order not to imperil EU funding and to avoid potential legal confusion as Polish courts could choose whether to apply Polish or EU law. dt-bur/mas/har-jj Czechs in post-vote limbo as president rushed to hospital Prague The Czech Republic was plunged into uncertainty on Sunday as President Milos Zeman was rushed to hospital a day after his ally, populist billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, narrowly lost an election. The president, who plays a critical role in nominating any future prime minister, was taken to hospital by ambulance shortly after meeting Babis and appeared to be unconscious upon arrival, with someone seen holding up his head.

His doctor said he was in intensive care, while the Blesk tabloid quoted Zeman's office head Vratislav Mynar as saying that he "fell asleep during the transport, that's all. He wasn't unconscious". The DNES broadsheet wrote later on Sunday that Zeman, who has liver problems according to local media, was in a stable condition and could spend up to three weeks in hospital.

"Even if it's Mr President, I'm not authorised to give you any details because the patient is protected by the law," hospital spokeswoman Jitka Zinke told AFP. Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said on Twitter that Zeman's hospitalisation would not jeopardise the post-election talks. Babis is hoping to hold on to power despite being defeated on Saturday by the centre-right Together alliance, which has said it is ready to form a majority government with another grouping. The president, who is wheelchair-bound, had cast his ballot in his official residence because of health problems less than a month after he spent eight nights at the military hospital. Under the Czech constitution, the authority to nominate the new prime minister falls to the speaker of the newly elected lower house of parliament if both houses of the body declare the president unable to perform his duties. - 'Absolutely excited' - The Together alliance of the right-wing Civic Democrats, the centre-right TOP 09 and the centrist Christian Democrats won 27.79 percent of the vote, while Babis's ANO party earned 27.12 percent. The alliance would have a majority of 108 seats in the 200-seat parliament together with another grouping comprising the anti-establishment Pirate Party and the centrist Mayors and Independents. Together leader Petr Fiala said on Saturday that the two alliances would only talk about a government with each other and ask Zeman to tap him to form the government. A day after voting in Prague, Zdenek Klima told AFP he was "absolutely excited" with the outcome. "Owing to the new government, we will finally be where we historically belong," he beamed. Analysts saw the election result as a blow to populism. "It's a victory not only for the Czech Republic, but for the whole of Europe," Jiri Priban from Cardiff Law School said on Czech TV. "It's a proof that even if the populists can't be entirely defeated, their advance can be stopped and reversed," he added. - Communists out - Babis currently leads a minority government with the Social Democrats, which was until recently tacitly backed by the Communist Party that ruled the former totalitarian Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989. But the Communists were ousted from parliament at the polls for the first time since World War II, and the Social Democrats also failed to meet the five-percent threshold for parliament entry. The 67-year-old Babis, a food, chemicals and media mogul, is facing police charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud and the bloc's dismay over his conflict of interest as a businessman and a politician. Last weekend, the Pandora Papers investigation showed he had used money from his offshore firms to finance the purchase of property in southern France in 2009, including a chateau. He has denied any wrongdoing and slammed the allegations as a smear campaign. frj/dt/har / (ANSA).

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