Thousands of Poles protest pro-market reforms

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poles blew horns, prayed and waved flags in downtown Warsaw on Saturday to show their anger over a new law that raises the retirement age and a host of other issues.

The protest was organized by the conservative and nationalistic opposition party Law and Justice, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as well as the Solidarity trade union and other groups.

Dubbed "Wake Up, Poland," the protest is an expression of the deep anxieties gripping many Poles as the government tries to lower state debt by embracing pro-market reforms that are weakening the social safety net.

Many of the protesters are also conservative Catholics ill at ease in a country that is quickly growing more secular as it grows wealthier and more integrated with the West.

A key source of anger for the protesters is a new law put through by the pro-market government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk which will gradually raise the retirement age to 67 for all Poles from 60 for women and 65 for men.

Participants also expressed anger at a decision by the Polish national broadcasting council to strip a Catholic TV station, TV Trwam, of a free digital TV signal. They argue that it marks a blow to freedom of expression and an attempt to silence their conservative and Catholic world view. The broadcasting council, however, has said the station lost its transmission rights because of a lack of transparency in its funding.

Protesters sang patriotic and religious songs as they gathered at Three Crosses Square in downtown Warsaw, some of them holding rosaries.

"Our presence here is a sign of opposition to the discrimination against Catholic media and TV Trwam," Zbigniew Ziobro, a leading conservative politician, told protesters, according to the news agency PAP.

Police had no estimate yet for the number of protesters, but private broadcaster TVN24 said tens of thousands turned out.

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