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Poland's opposition supporters mass in Warsaw two weeks before election

Opposition leader Donald Tusk at an opposition rally in Warsaw, Poland on October 1st 2023.
Opposition leader Donald Tusk at an opposition rally in Warsaw, Poland on October 1st 2023. Copyright Rafal Oleksiewicz/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Rafal Oleksiewicz/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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Opposition leader Donald Tusk told supporters that political "change for the better is inevitable” in Poland at a massive march on Sunday.

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“No one can stop this force; this giant has awoken,” Tusk told huge crowds gathered in the centre of Warsaw two weeks before the election. “Let no one among the ruling team have any illusions: This change for the better is inevitable.” 

Tusk is trying to boost his political coalition's chances of unseating the nationalist government in an upcoming parliamentary election.

The Law and Justice party has been eroding the rule of law and was found to be limiting the independence of its judges by the EU in 2021 which has been fining Poland half a million euros every day.

The party has also interfered with state media to ensure it mostly promotes the government's views.

And it's promoted populist policies such as demanding Germany pay reparations for atrocities committed in World War Two as well as banning abortions.

The government is also vehemently opposed to migration and helping refugees. In September an aid worker was arrested for helping migrants and asylum seekers stranded at the Poland-Belarus border.

Tusk's Civic Coalition is vowing to mend ties with the European Union, which has had strained relations with Poland during the eight years the Law and Justice party has governed the country. Tusk spent five years as president of the European Council after serving seven years as Poland's prime minister.

The four-party coalition also has pledged to pursue more tolerant policies than the nationalist government led by Law and Justice.

Thousands of supporters arrived on buses provided for them from across Poland to take part in the “March of a Million Hearts.” Police closed some downtown streets for the 4-kilometre walk. People in the crowd carried national and EU flags.

“When I see this sea of hearts, I can sense that a breakthrough moment is coming in the history of our homeland,” Tusk said to cheers and chants of his name.

Civic Coalition rallies also were planned in other Polish cities. A centrist opposition alliance, the Third Way, abstained from the march in the capital and held its own rallies.

Tusk's electoral alliance is a few percentage points behind Law and Justice in recent surveys. He says the wider opposition that includes the Left party and Third Way could defeat the ruling party and form a government. He greeted Third Way's leaders at the start of his march.

A similar march in June drew huge crowds that the organizers estimated at some 500,000.

Tusk returned to Polish politics several years ago, seeking to breathe new life into his languishing Civic Platform party and to reverse what many view as a degradation of fundamental rights under the Law and Justice-led government.

The governing party and the government itself have waged a hostile and aggressive campaign. The hard-right Confederation party also has been growing in popularity.

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