Police arrested 37 people on Friday evening, the vast majority of whom were football hooligans, Sylwester Marczak, spokesman for Warsaw Police Headquarters, said on Saturday morning. Considering the large number of participants, it was a “very peaceful” demonstration, he added.
Protests of this scale were last seen in the 1980s Solidarity movement in Poland, which led to the collapse of the government, analysts said.
The protest in Warsaw was the culmination of nine days of nationwide protests since a court ruling on October 22 ruled abortion due to fetal abnormalities unconstitutional. This meant that abortion in Poland would only be legal in two scenarios – if the pregnancy threatened the life and health of the mother, or if a woman became pregnant after rape or incest.
According to local media, 430,000 people attended more than 400 protests across the country against the ban on Wednesday. Online supporters use the #ThisIsWar tag to show solidarity with those marching.
The protests were carried out in defiance of the ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aerial images of the protest in Warsaw posted on social media showed the scale of the turnout on Friday evening.
Organizers of the protest urged protesters to head to the residence of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling right-wing law and justice (PiS) party, widely regarded as the de facto decision-maker in Poland. The protest ended there around 11 p.m. local time, and organizers urged protesters to return home to safety.
Kaczyński on Wednesday called protesters “criminals” and said people taking part in mass rallies were putting people’s lives at risk given the surge in coronavirus cases in Poland.
In an apparent relaxation of his stance, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday presented a draft amendment to the controversial law that would legalize abortion in situations where the baby has “fatal defects” and dies soon after birth.
The amendment would mean that abortion would remain legal in the event that
The decision of the Polish Constitutional Court removed one of the few grounds for legal dismissal in the country, which already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
Abortions due to fetal abnormalities accounted for around 98% of all legal abortions performed in Poland in 2019, according to data from the Polish Ministry of Health.
Asked about the protests underway across Poland over the controversial court ruling, Duda condemned protesters who disrupted religious services earlier this week.
“If we are talking about acts of physical or verbal aggression, if we are talking about invading churches, if we are talking about insulting religious feelings, desecrating places of worship, I am sorry, but the limits are definitely crossed. here, ”he said. .
Leaders of the abortion right protest accused the populist PiS party of pushing the court to tighten abortion restrictions in order to please the party base and the Church. Church leaders have denied influencing the law change.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Friday urged protesters not to take to the streets as he announced new measures to try to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“I understand your anger, but I urge you to stay at home, especially for the sake of the elderly,” he said.
The measures include closing cemeteries for three days, urging business owners to allow employees to work from home and urging older citizens to stay at home.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told Polish news channel TVN24 on Friday that he was watching the protests with “great concern” and urging people to isolate themselves from the participants, saying they could be more exposed to Covid-19.
Poland registered 21,629 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, marking another record in the country, where the number of cases has tripled in less than a month. Another 202 deaths have also been reported by the Polish Ministry of Health, with the total number of confirmed infections in the country exceeding 340,000.
CNN’s Zahid Mahmood contributed to this report.