Walesa to join protests against 'harmful' Polish gov't

Walesa to join protests against 'harmful' Polish gov't

Warsaw (AFP) - Poland's freedom icon Lech Walesa on Wednesday vowed to join street protests against his country's right-wing government, currently being probed by the EU over perceived threats to the rule of law.

Walesa, a Nobel peace laureate and former president, also laid into Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful boss of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party who is widely regarded as Poland's de facto decision-maker.

Walesa has previously raised questions as to whether Kaczynski was seeking to turn Poland into "a dictatorship" through a series of reforms that critics allege have undermined democratic checks and balances.

"Given the increasingly impudent and harmful activity of the group supervised by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, I'm forced to take greater action," Walesa wrote in a Wednesday post on his Facebook page.

"As of today, I'll participate in all rallies, protests and more," Walesa added.

Walesa also told the website that his decision to act was triggered by his "exasperation" over the arrest on Saturday of fellow communist-era dissident Wladyslaw Frasyniuk during a protest against Kaczynski and the PiS in Warsaw.

Frasyniuk and around 100 other arrested protesters were later released.

Since winning power in October 2015, the populist PiS administration has pushed through a string of reforms that critics say undermine the independence of the public broadcasters and the judiciary, including the Constitutional Tribunal.

The EU agreed in May to continue long drawn-out talks with Warsaw in a bid to stop its alleged breaches of the rule of law, backing away for now from threatening sanctions.

Kaczynski and other PiS politicians have brought up old allegations that Walesa collaborated with the communist secret police in the early 1970s, something the anti-communist firebrand has long denied.

Although both men fought Poland's communist regime, they later became bitter foes amid power struggles in the early years of Poland's democracy.

Shipyard electrician Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for leading Solidarity, the Soviet bloc's only free trade union.

He became Poland's first democratically elected president after negotiating a bloodless end to communism for the country in 1989.

Poles in general have mixed feelings about Walesa. His boldness in standing up to the communist regime is still widely respected, but the combative and divisive tone of his later presidency earned him scorn in many quarters.