Poles Protest Gov Refusal of Court Rule

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Thousands rallied in Warsaw and other Polish cities Saturday to protest the conservative government's refusal to accept a constitutional court ruling that strikes down government changes that have paralyzed the court.

The protests come amid a deepening political crisis, with international organizations and the Constitutional Tribunal faulting Poland's new government for centralizing its power. The Law and Justice party government, however, insists it has a mandate from voters for its actions.

In the capital, a large crowd rallied in front of the Constitutional Tribunal and then marched across town to the presidential palace with a banner reading, "Let's bring back the constitutional order." City Hall estimated that 50,000 people took part while police put the number at 15,000.

The protests, also staged in Poznan and Wroclaw, aimed to show support for the beleaguered court and to urge the government to roll back changes that have undermined the court's ability to act as a check on government power.

Critics call the government's moves an attack on Polish democracy, which was won thanks to years of struggle by Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

But the government, which remains popular with conservative voters, announced Saturday it still is refusing to publish a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal that struck down the amendments passed in December that have blocked the court. The move prevents the ruling from becoming binding.

The announcement by spokesman Rafal Bochenek indicates a resolution is still nowhere in sight.

The left-wing Together party, which has protested in front of the prime minister's office for several days, was holding a public reading of the constitution later Saturday.

On Friday, the Venice Commission, an expert body with the Council of Europe human rights group, said Poland's democracy is being threatened by government moves that have "crippled" its constitutional court. It said refusing to publish the court's ruling violates the rule of law.

Bochenek said the commission's opinion would be sent to parliament so all political sides could seek a resolution.

The government, however, denies that democracy is threatened.

"Democracy is fine, very fine," said Beata Kempa, a leading official in the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. "We don't send police with bullets against people. They are allowed to express their views here."