WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of opposition supporters marched Saturday in the Polish capital to celebrate the nation's European Union membership ahead of the key European Parliament election this week.
In Warsaw, EU Council President and Poland's former prime minister, Donald Tusk, and numerous opposition figures led the "Poland in Europe" march through the downtown. The pro-EU rally aimed to underline that Poles want to be an important member in the 28-nation bloc, even though Poland's right-wing government is highly critical of the EU and its institutions.
"We must always be in the EU, we are Europeans and being together is helping Poland develop and feel safe," said Ewa Gaska, a translator.
Many participants came from across Poland to show their backing for EU membership, which polls show to be about 85%, among Europe's highest. They carried EU and Polish flags.
At the same time, ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski addressed a gathering of supporters to discredit the opposition, alleging that its policies failed to represent or defend Poland's interests in the bloc.
Speaking in church-studded Krakow, in the midst of a heated electoral campaign in the predominantly Catholic nation, Kaczynski said the main opposition party, Civic Platform, supported left-wing and anti-Christian policies.
At the Warsaw rally, leaders from center-left parties, including Civic Platform, called on Poles to vote in the European Parliament election being held here on May 26, saying it is crucial for Poland's standing in the EU. Polish turnout in European elections has always been well under 30%.
Tusk, who had co-founded Civic Platform, urged people to vote for pro-EU parties, saying that would be a vote for a "free, democratic, Poland without fear, without constraint, without contempt for others."
His words were an apparent criticism of the ruling Law and Justice party whose media, migration and justice policies have deeply divided the country.
"A secure Poland in a strong and united Europe is the most precious political value for Poles today," Tusk said.
Tusk's presence at the rally and at previous events has raised speculation about whether he is planning to return to domestic Polish politics when his EU term expires in November.
The EU elections are also being seen in Poland as a test of support for the ruling party and the opposition parties ahead of a national parliament election in the fall.
For more news from The Associated Press on the European Parliament elections, go to https://www.apnews.com/EuropeanParliament