Thousands take to the streets of Warsaw to protest anti-abortion ruling

Wojtek Jargiło/PAP

A demonstration organised by the National Women's Strike under the slogan "March on Warsaw" began in the capital on Friday at 5:00 pm. Protesters set off from three points in the city: Castle Square, the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and Zawiszy Square.

The demonstrations, which started out from Zawiszy Square and Castle Square, headed towards the Dmowskiego Roundabout. The crowd in front of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister on Ujazdowskie Avenue protested on the spot. They carried rainbow flags and banners with slogans like: "Enough", "No women, no country", "We want to live with full rights" and "You will never walk alone"

The crowd gathered at Plac Zamkowy was mainly made up of young people. Many of them carried posters with symbols of the Warsaw Women's Strike, the initiator of the protests. The participants of the demonstration carried banners with the logo of the women's strike, with added words like "PiS Out", "Aggression Awakens in Me", "Today I Am a Woman".

There were very few protesters in Warsaw's Old Town. Young men stood in front of the cathedral and the Jesuit church with rosaries in their hands and prayed. In the streets surrounding the Old Town Square, groups of men dressed in dark clothes and masked faces gathered in groups. At one point, a group of masked men ran from the direction of the Old Town towards the protesters and threw flares into the crowd. The police intervened.

Crowds also appeared on Zawiszy Square and along Jerozolimskie Avenue in central Warsaw. Shortly after, the demonstration moved towards the centre itself, where the atmosphere was said to be calm.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered in front of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, which was secured by a cordon of police and military police. Several dozen police vehicles were also parked on nearby Bagatela Street.

At exactly 5:00 pm a crowd of demonstrators, headed by a truck with a makeshift stage, approached the head of government's seat from the direction of the Belweder Palace. "The military won't stop us, they too have daughters, sisters and wives. Guys, who did you leave at home?" the woman standing on the truck asked the policemen through a megaphone.

The protest is secured by the police and soldiers of the Military Police. Officers of both services are present, including in front of the Church of St. Alexander on Three Crosses Square and the Basilica of the Holy Cross on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, where last Sunday there were scuffles between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators from nationalist circles. Police and military police officers also gathered in front of the Sejm (lower house), which was fenced off with barriers.

"We are monitoring the situation in the city, we will keep an eye on those places where the law has so far been broken, property destroyed, and inscriptions painted on the facades of churches. We expect the largest protest since the announcement of the Constitutional Tribunal's verdict, and we are preparing for it," the spokesman for Warsaw Police Headquarters Superintendent Sylwester Marczak told PAP.

Around 7:00 pm riots broke out on de Gaulle Roundabout in the city centre after demonstrators were attacked by groups of opponents, who threw flares into the crowd, however police soon arrived at the scene to take control of the situation. The protesters subsequently set off for the home of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, whom they consider one of the main initiators of the abortion ruling.

At around 9:00 pm several hundred protesters gathered near Kaczynski's home, chanting "I won't be your servant," "I think, I feel, I decide," "Why are you making people mad," and "Free Poland and free abortions."

Demonstrations in Warsaw and other Polish cities have been continuing since last Thursday, when the Polish constitutional court ruled that provisions allowing abortion in the case of a high probability of severe and irreversible foetal damage or an incurable disease that threatens the life of the foetus is inconsistent with the constitution.