WARSAW, POLAND - Poles held demonstrations in cities across the country Friday to protest plans by the ruling party to push through laws that would give it greater control over the courts and the national election commission.
The protesters rallied under the slogan "Free courts, free elections, free Poland'' after lawmakers voted earlier in the day to give preliminary approval to the changes. Protests were also held abroad, including in Chicago, London and Dublin.
The ruling Law and Justice party has already pushed through two laws that have given it greater power over the Constitutional Tribunal and ordinary courts.
Two other bills on the judicial system that sparked large protests in the summer were blocked by the president but have returned to the legislature in modified form. The lawmakers sent them for fine-tuning to a specialized commission, and a vote on a final version could be held in early December. It would then need approval from the Senate and from President Andrzej Duda.
The European Union says that if passed, the bills would undermine the separation of powers, while Polish critics see these and other changes as a power grab that has nothing to do with improving the justice system.
The ruling party, however, says it is making needed reforms that have not been tackled yet since communism fell in 1989. It says the protests are the work of post-communist elites seeking to hold on to their privileges.