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Hundreds of thousands join anti-government rally in Poland's capital

This photo shows an overview of crowds and city skyline during the "March of a Million Hearts" opposition rally, in Warsaw, Poland, on October 1, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Hundreds of thousands of people have joined an anti-government rally in Poland's capital city ahead of general elections that may decide the country's future in the European Union.

Warsaw city authorities said about a million people attended demonstrations on Sunday, which has been described as the biggest rally the city has ever seen.

Online news channel said according to its calculations some 600,000-800,000 people attended the rally, which was called as a show of force by the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party.

The PO leader and a former European Council president, Donald Tusk, said the country's democracy would be under threat should the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government -- which has been in power since 2015 -- manage to extend its mandate in the upcoming polls.

Addressing the "Million Hearts March," which sought to mobilize the electorate ahead of the October 15 vote, Tusk said it was "a historic duty" to remove the PiS from power.

"Big change is coming. This is a sign of Poland's rebirth," he told the crowd at a central Warsaw square, adding, "The impossible has become possible, when I see this sea of hearts, when I see these hundreds of thousands of smiling faces, I feel that this turning point in the history of our homeland is approaching."

The EU has refused to unleash billions of dollars in COVID recovery funds towards Poland, finding fault with a number of judicial reforms that the ruling party has enacted.

The party, though, says the reforms were needed to enhance justice standards across the country and rid it of, what it calls, vestiges of communism.

Addressing the demonstration, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a senior PO member, accused the PiS of preventing the country from benefitting from the funds by "destroying democracy."

The PiS, which has vowed to keep migrants out, calling them a threat to the country's "national security," has, however, denied undermining democratic standards.

"If we succeed..., we’ll chase away Tusk. Where? To Berlin," announced Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, referring to accusations by the PiS that Tusk has teamed up with Germany against Poland. He even went as far as labelling Tusk the “political husband” of former German chancellor, Angela Merkel. 

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