Europe

Warsaw nationalist march draws tens of thousands

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Media captionA nationalist march and counter-protest have been taking place in the Polish capital, Warsaw

Tens of thousands of people joined a nationalist march in Warsaw on Saturday, organised to coincide with Poland's independence day.

Marchers chanted religious slogans such as "God, honour, country" and some called out racist chants including "Pure Poland, white Poland".

An "anti-fascist" counter-protest attracted about 2,000 people.

Police estimated that 60,000 people took part in the main march.

It attracted far-right agitators from elsewhere in Europe, including Tommy Robinson from the UK and Roberto Fiore from Italy.

Kamil Staszalek, 30, said he was there to "honour the memory of those who fought for Poland's freedom".

"I'd say some people here do have extreme views, maybe even 30% of those marching, but 70% are simply walking peacefully, without shouting any fascist slogans," he told the AFP news agency.

Supporters of the country's governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party took part in the annual march, which takes place alongside other events.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak called the event a "beautiful sight".

"We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday," he said.

Andy Eddles, a British language teacher who has been living in Poland for 27 years, said he was "shocked that they're allowed to demonstrate on this day".

"It's 50,000 to 100,000 mostly football hooligans hijacking patriotism," the 50-year-old, who joined the counter-protest, told AFP.

"For me it's important to support the anti-fascist coalition, and to support fellow democrats, who are under pressure in Poland today," he said.

The nationalist marchers carried Polish flags and threw red smoke bombs. Pawel, 21, from the southern city of Rzeszow told AFP it was "important because religion is important in our country and we don't want Islamisation, of Europe or especially Poland".Other events were also held in the city for Independence Day, which marks the country regaining independence 123 years after it was carved up by Tsarist Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An official ceremony was hosted by President Andrzej Duda.

All living former Polish presidents attended, as well as the European Union president Donald Tusk.

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Image caption European Council President Donald Tusk lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

"Independence Day has always been and will continue to be a celebration of all Poles and not just one party. No politician in Poland has ever had nor will ever have a monopoly on patriotism," Mr Tusk said as he arrived at the airport in Warsaw.

Poland was the only EU country to vote against Mr Tusk's reelection as EU president in March.

The conservative tack taken by the country's ruling PiS party, including anti-migrant and pro-logging reforms, has put it increasingly at odd with Brussels.

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