WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling party leader accused opposition politicians of having “blood on their hands” for supporting protests the government blames for helping spread COVID-19, as police kept demonstrators against an abortion ruling away from parliament.
Protesters had planned to blockade parliament as part of demonstrations against a top court ruling that amounted to a near-total ban on abortion.
“All the demonstrations you supported have cost the lives of many people — you have blood on your hands,” Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told opposition lawmakers in the parliament.
PiS have blamed the protests for spreading COVID-19.
Police kept protesters away from the building and local media reported that scuffles broke out in the city centre. A left-wing lawmaker said deputy speaker Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, a member of their party, was beaten by police.
Television footage showed a line of riot police blocking the route of protesters.
“Due to the aggression directed against police officers, direct coercion measures were used in the form of gas,” Warsaw police said on Twitter.
The police also said officers had been sent to investigate the police intervention concerning Czarzasty.
Earlier footage from private broadcaster TVN 24 showed protesters playing drums and dancing in the street, while others carried placards with slogans including “Women’s Hell”.
While centred on abortion, the protests have seen a broader outpouring of anger at Poland’s nationalist rulers and their allies in the Catholic church, the latest manifestation of a battle between liberals and religious conservatives that this time touches on the government’s response to COVID-19.
Pictures on social media showed large numbers of police vans outside parliament before the protest was due to start.
“The fact that there are so many police officers … shows that PiS are afraid of women,” left-wing lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus told Reuters by telephone.
A PiS spokeswomen could not immediately be reached for comment.
The protests took place as Polish lawmakers met in the parliament to discuss issues such as the country’s veto of the European Union’s budget and a post-COVID recovery package.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Editing by William Maclean and Tom Brown)