Police block Warsaw march against abortion ruling, force use

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People demonstrate against police violence and an attempted restriction on abortion rights in Warsaw Poland, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Nationwide protests Saturday were scheduled to coincide with Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago. Weeks of protests against a high court's ruling to further restrict Abortion rights have evolved into the largest protest movement since communism fell 30 years ago.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW – Police blocked protesters from marching in Poland's capital as demonstrations took place across the country against an attempt to restrict abortion rights and recent police violence.

Police and protesters played a game of cat and mouse in Warsaw as officers set up cordons which the protesters sought to evade, pushing them to try to regroup elsewhere in the city center.

At one point, protest participants gathered on a major thoroughfare, causing traffic to back up. As drivers honked, the protesters shouted: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, we have a government to overthrow."

Police issued warnings that the demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered ahead of time. It also violated a pandemic-related ban on large gatherings.

“We have a right to protest,” participants chanted.

Officers at one point used tear gas against an opposition lawmaker, Barbara Nowacka, who had been intervening “in defense of peacefully protesting women,” Borys Budka, the head of Poland's centrist Civic Platform party, said.

Protesters in the capital began their demonstration by symbolically “renaming" a downtown square to Women's Rights Roundabout. An activist climbed onto a ladder placed upon a van to hang a new street sign over the official one reading Roman Dmowski Roundabout.

Women's rights activists want authorities to formally approve the name change. They say it would honor a movement for equality rather than Dmowski, a statesman who had a key role in helping Poland regain national independence in 1918, but who was also an anti-Semite.