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Police presence strong at Polish pride march in wake of violence

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WARSAW (Reuters) – More than 1000 people took part in a pride parade in the central Polish city of Plock protected by a cordon of armed police as LGBT rights became a hot button issue in Catholic Poland ahead of a parliamentary election in October.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has made hostility to gays a central focus of its campaign, depicting LGBT rights as a dangerous foreign idea that undermines traditional values.

A pride parade in the provincial city of Bialystok in July was marred by violence after anti-gay protesters chased people through the streets and beat them.

Critics say PiS has fomented anti-gay sentiment and helped lead to the violence against the LGBT community in Poland.

Marchers walked through the streets of Plock waving rainbow flags while surrounded by police in riot gear, TV footage from private broadcaster TVN showed.

Politicians, including Robert Biedron, one of Poland’s first openly gay politicians who launched the leftist Wiosna party earlier this year, attended the march.

A group of counter-protesters gathered at the Plock parade and chanted homophobic insults but were blocked from interacting with parade participants by the heavy police presence.

No serious incidents took place, although there were a few scuffles with police, TV footage showed.

“For many years in Poland not much was done to handle such violence. It’s time for these hateful crimes to be punished,” Biedron said in a speech ahead of the march, broadcast on TVN.

ELECTIONSUPPORT

PiS has maintained steady support in the polls ahead of the October 13 vote, despite a recent scandal where Poland’s former parliament speaker used government aircraft for private trips.

Analysts say PiS’ criticism of LGBT rights could be a strategy to rally its conservative, rural base.

If parliamentary elections were to take place on Sunday, 43% of Poles would vote for the ruling PiS, the poll, carried out between August 6 and 7, said.

The opposition Civic Coalition would garner 28%, while a leftist bloc of three parties, including the progressive Wiosna, would earn 12%.

Members of Poland’s Catholic Church, seen as a close ally of PiS, have also been critical of LGBT rights in recent weeks.

Marek Jedraszewski, one of Poland’s most senior Catholics, earlier this month compared gay rights campaigners to Poland’s former communist rulers in a sermon given to mark the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising.

Hundreds gathered in Warsaw in front of the apostolic nunciature this week to protest against Jedraszewski’s comments and demand his resignation.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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