WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in an anti-government protest in Poland’s capital on Sunday, with citizens traveling from across the country to voice their anger at officials who they say have eroded democratic norms and created fears that the nation is following Hungary and Turkey down the path to autocracy.
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who belongs to the opposition party that led the march, estimated that 500,000 people took part. The Onet news portal estimated there there were at least 300,000 at the march’s culmination.
Large crowds also gathered in Krakow and other cities across the nation of 38 million people, showing frustration with a government that critics accuse of violating the constitution and eroding fundamental rights in Poland.
Former President Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement that played a historic role in toppling communism in Poland, marched alongside the leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, ex-Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Walesa and Tusk are reviled by the ruling Law and Justice party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the Warsaw crowd chanted “Democracy!” and “Constitution!”
The rally started at Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office and ended up at the Royal Castle, where Tusk hailed the turnout and pledged to fight to win an autumn election.
“We are going to these elections to win and to right human wrongs. I promise you victory, a settlement of evil, compensation for human wrongs and reconciliation among Poles,” Tusk told the crowd.
The government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, accused Tusk and Walesa of “trying to overthrow the government.”
Tusk had called on Poles to march with him for the sake of the nation’s future — a message that resonated for Radek Tusinski, 49, who arrived with his wife and two children. A handmade sign reading “I cannot give up freedom” was attached to their baby stroller.
Tuskinski said that he worries about the creeping return of an authoritarian system similar to what he remembers from his childhood.
“We want a free country for our children,” he said.
Supporters of the march have warned that the election might be the nation’s last chance to stop the erosion of democracy under Law and Justice amid growing fears that the fall election might not be fair.
However, critics have warned for years that the party is reversing many of the achievements made since Poland emerged from communist rule in 1989.
The U.S. government has intervened at times when it felt the government was eroding media liberties and academic freedom in the area of Holocaust research.
Critics point mainly to the party’s step-by-step takeover of the judiciary and media, and fear that Law and Justice could eventually force Poland to leave the 27-member European Union.
A clampdown on abortion rights has triggered mass protests. Some also voiced anger at double-digit inflation in the country. Poland’s government blames Russia’s war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, but economists say its spending policies have accelerated spiraling prices.
Barbara Dec, 26, and her grandmother left their hometown of Zielona Gora at 4:30 a.m. and traveled seven hours on a bus organized by Civic Platform to protest.
Dec held up a cardboard sign that read, “I am afraid to have children in Poland.”
“Women have lost the right to have an abortion even when the fetus is terminally ill, and some women have died,” she explained. “And I am also afraid I couldn’t manage financially.”
The march was held on the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first partly-free election. The protest was seen as a test for Tusk’s Civic Platform, a centrist and pro-European party which has trailed behind Law and Justice in polls.
However, the passage of a contentious law last month seems to have mobilized greater support for Tusk. Poland is expected to hold a general election in October, though a date hasn’t been set.
The law allows for the creation of a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland. Critics argue that it would have unconstitutional powers, including the capacity to exclude officials from public life for a decade. They fear it will be used by the ruling party to remove Tusk and other opponents from public life.
President Andrzej Duda, who signed the law on May 29, proposed amendments to it on Friday. In the meantime, the law will take effect with no guarantees that lawmakers in parliament will weaken the commission’s powers.
Some Poles say it could come to resemble the investigations of Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. senator whose anti-communist campaign in the early 1950s led to hysteria and political persecution.
That fear was underlined last weekend when Kaczynski was asked by a reporter if he still had trust in the defense minister in connection with a Russian missile that fell in Poland in December.
“I am forced … to view you as a representative of the Kremlin,” he replied. “Because only the Kremlin wants this man to stop being the minister of national defense.”
The media freedom group Reporters Without Borders expressed concerns that the commission “could serve as a new weapon for this type of attack, in which doubt is cast on journalists’ probity in an attempt to smear their reputation.”
Tusk, who once served as European Council president, had called for the march weeks ago, urging people to demonstrate “against high prices, theft and lies, for free elections and a democratic, European Poland.”
Law and Justice sought to discourage participation in the rally with a video spot using Auschwitz as a theme — drawing criticism from the state museum that preserves the site of the Nazi German death camp.
Cyberattacks hit military, Parliament websites as India hacker group targets Canada
The federal government is coping with apparent cyber attacks this week, as a hacker group in India claims it has sowed chaos in Ottawa. Hands type on a keyboard in Vancouver on Wednesday, December, 19, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
The federal government is coping with apparent cyberattacks this week, as a hacker group in India claims it has sowed chaos in Ottawa.
The Canadian Armed Forces said that its website became unavailable to mobile users midday Wednesday, but was fixed within a few hours.
The military said the site is separate from other government sites, such as the one used by the Department of Defence and internal military networks. The incident remains under investigation.
“We have no indication of broader impacts to our systems,” said a statement from spokeswoman Andrée-Anne Poulin.
Meanwhile, various pages on the House of Commons website continued to load slowly or incompletely on Thursday due to an ongoing attack that officials say started Monday morning.
The Commons administration said it was facing a distributed denial-of-service attack, which is when bots swarm a website with multiple visits and cause it to stop loading properly.
“House of Commons systems responded as planned to protect our network and IT infrastructure. However, some websites may be unresponsive for a short period,” spokeswoman Amélie Crosson said in a written statement Thursday morning.
“The House of Commons IT support team, in collaboration with our partners, have implemented mitigating measures and restored services to appropriate service levels. The IT team is still continuously monitoring for such activities.”
She added that the Commons administration is helping their Senate colleagues “to provide guidance and support them to restore services.”
Elections Canada also experienced roughly an hour-long denial-of-service attack starting around midnight early Wednesday, Ottawa time.
“This website does not host any sensitive data or information. It is separate from our main website, elections.ca, and is hosted by an external service provider. It is in no way connected to the network that supports elections.ca,” the agency wrote in a statement.
“Our systems are monitored in real time both internally, and by the Canadian Cyber Security Centre, enabling us to quickly detect any anomalies on our platforms and systems. They are aware of the incident.”
That centre is under the umbrella of the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s signals-intelligence agency.
A hacking group named Indian Cyber Force claimed responsibility for the incidents involving the military and Elections Canada, and it appeared to have managed to infiltrate a handful of websites owned by small businesses in Canada.
The group made reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telling Parliament on Sept. 18 that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the killing of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been wanted by India for years and was gunned down in June outside the temple he led.
The hacking group has posted multiple versions of a message riddled with spelling and grammatical errors onto websites of restaurants and medical clinics.
The affected sites show a message on a black background with green digits, similar to the film “The Matrix,” as warlike music plays.
The message described Canada as a haven for terrorists — a “heaven hub,” it said in butchered English — and similarly insulted Sikh separatists.
It also criticized Trudeau for “throwing something without any prove,” or proof.
The group claimed to have attacked Elections Canada and the Ottawa Hospital, though these sites appeared to be operating normally Thursday morning. The Canadian Press has asked those responsible for these web pages to confirm whether they have been affected.
The hacking group also claimed to have taken down the Global Affairs Canada website for travel advisories, but the department insists this hasn’t happened, and the group deleted that claim from its account on the social-media application Telegram.
News of the attacks came as questions abounded over Indian officials’ level of co-operation with Canadian officials over Trudeau’s allegations — and to what extent allies such as the United States were advocating on Canada’s behalf.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with India’s foreign-affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Neither of them made mention of the controversy in Canada when they emerged briefly to pose for photos before their meeting began.
During a State Department briefing prior to that meeting, spokesman Matthew Miller refused to speculate on what the secretary would tell Jaishankar directly.
“What I will say, however, is we have consistently engaged with the Indian government on this question and have urged them to co-operate, and that engagement and urging them to co-operate will continue,” Miller said.
“We urge them to co-operate with the Canadian investigation.”
Miller flatly refused comment when asked about a television interview last week with U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen, who confirmed that Canada received intelligence from one of its Five Eyes security partners.
“I am not going to speak to intelligence matters from the podium.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.
— With files from James McCarten in Washington, D.C.
After briefing on intel, Singh says ‘clear evidence’ India involved in B.C. killing
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with the media on Parliament Hill, Tuesday, September 26, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday he received an intelligence briefing about allegations that the Indian government could be behind the killing of a Sikh gurdwara leader in British Columbia.
“I can confirm what the prime minister has shared publicly: that there is clear intelligence that Canada has that lays out the following case that a Canadian citizen was killed on Canadian soil and a foreign government was involved,” Singh told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“That intelligence is something that I think is very credible.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons Sept. 18 about “credible allegations” that the Indian government was involved in the June death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C.
The well-known activist belonged to a movement that advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh state in India’s Punjab province. India’s government had labelled him a terrorist but has denied any involvement in his killing, calling the allegations by Trudeau “absurd and motivated.”
The extraordinary allegation has worsened already rocky relations between India and Canada. India’s government has accused Canada of not providing evidence to back up its claim, while Trudeau and other other ministers have called on India to co-operate with investigations.
Singh said Trudeau first told him and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre about the allegations against India before sharing them publicly. Three days later, Singh received a briefing from Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas.
Singh told reporters Tuesday that he was able to request the briefing on the matter because of the top-secret security clearance he obtained to review foreign-interference materials prepared by former governor general David Johnston, who had been named as a special rapporteur to explore that issue. Johnston has resigned from that role.
The former governor general’s report had concluded that Trudeau’s government did not knowingly or negligently fail to act on foreign attempts to interfere in the last two federal elections.
He had also recommended against calling a public inquiry into the issue. The Liberal government ended up tapping Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue to lead one earlier this month after months of outcry from, and discussions with, opposition parties.
Singh said that after reviewing the confidential material he had access to from Johnston, he agrees a public inquiry into foreign interference is necessary.
Poilievre has so far rejected getting the clearance needed to review the top-secret annex from Johnston’s earlier report.
Poilievre said Tuesday that he was offered a briefing similar to one B.C. Premier David Eby received on the matter.
He said he doesn’t believe the briefing will offer any more substantial details on the allegation and would only force him to be tight-lipped about whatever he learned.
The Conservative leader has called on Trudeau to “come clean” about the evidence behind the allegation against India, saying Canadians deserve more facts.
Singh said Tuesday he does not support that call.
“They’re matters of national security and so information cannot be released beyond the general statements that were released,” he said.
“There’s going to be a next step in the investigation and a prosecution and then information will be made public in an appropriate manner. … To do it early would jeopardize the investigation.”
A Canadian official told The Associated Press that the allegation of India’s involvement is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally.
The official said the communications involved Indian government officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance — Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The official did not say which ally provided the intelligence or give any details of the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period that aired on Sunday, David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, confirmed “there was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to making the statements that the prime minister made.”
He said he does not generally comment on “private diplomatic conversations,” but added: “There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this, and I think that’s as far as I’m comfortable going.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.
— With files from James McCarten in Washington and The Associated Press.
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