Polish president approves controversial reform, after vetoing two others

Warsaw (AFP) - Poland's President Andrzej Duda Tuesday approved one of three controversial judicial reforms that have sparked huge street protests and threats of EU sanctions, after vetoing the other two.

Despite appeals for a "third veto" from opposition demonstrators, Duda's office said he signed into law a measure that allows the justice minister to unilaterally replace the chief justices of the common courts, which include appeal courts.

But Duda on Monday vetoed two other reforms -- one that would have reinforced political control over the Supreme Court and another aimed at allowing parliament to choose members of the National Council of the Judiciary, a task currently carried out by an independent body.

The president said "a good reform" of the judicial system was needed and said he hoped to table his own versions of the laws within two months.

The vetoes surprised observers as he is a close ally of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party that had pushed the legislation.

The government has vowed to press on with reforms despite Duda's move.

"The president's veto today slowed down reform work," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said late Monday, insisting that the PiS would not back down until the judicial system saw change.

Duda said he had made his decisions after consulting legal experts at the weekend, when thousands of people took to the streets across Poland urging him to veto the proposals that critics said threatened the rule of law.

- 'Divisions in society' -

The two vetoed reforms now return for amendment to parliament, where they require a three-fifths majority -- which the PiS does not have -- to go through unchanged.

The reforms would have increased political control over the judiciary, sparking an outcry among critics who said the PiS was seeking to reduce the independence of the courts.

"It was never part of our tradition that the attorney general could interfere in the work of the Supreme Court," Duda said.

The role of attorney general has been held by the justice minister in Poland since 2016, following one of the PiS's earlier reforms.

"I don't want this situation to deteriorate, because it's reinforcing divisions in society. There's only one Poland. Poland needs peace and I feel responsible for it as president," Duda said.

The European Commission had threatened to halt Poland's voting rights over the proposed reforms -- a so-called "nuclear option" that the EU has never invoked -- while the United States also expressed concern.

A Commission spokesman said it would discuss the situation on Wednesday.

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