Poland blames violence at far-right march on hooligans

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Protesters burn down bengal fire as they attend in the annual Independence Day march organized by far-right groups for participants to be inside cars or motorbikes because of the coronavirus social distancing, ready for the start of the event in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. The march that marks Poland's sovereignty regained after World War I has often led to clashes with opponents. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW – Poland’s ruling right-wing party has blamed violence, injuries and damage during recent national holiday event that it backs on hooligans and provocateurs.

Dozens of riot police and a photographer were injured Wednesday in clashes with participants in the annual Independence Day march in Warsaw that was organized by far-right groups. An apartment, a shop and an office door were set on fire. City authorities assessed the damage at tens of thousands of zlotys.

The events have drawn general condemnation and even calls for the march to be banned.

The ruling conservative Law and Justice party, which has promoted the regular marches that frequently turned violent, defended them as patriotic events but criticized the violence.

“Unfortunately, during the march there took place condemnable events that were the result of hooligans joining in," it said in a statement.

However, government spokesman Piotr Mueller told The Associated Press that “in Poland, freedom has special value,” and especially the freedom to gather and protest.

“Poland respects the variety of views and the possibility of expressing them,” Mueller said.

City authorities banned this year’s march due to pandemic restrictions.

The violence came as the government is facing daily nationwide protests calling for it to step down, triggered by the tightening of Poland's abortion law, one of Europe’s strictest.

The Nov. 11 national holiday marks Poland’s regaining of sovereignty after World War I, following over a century of partition and foreign rule.