Polish opposition head leads march to boost chances to unseat conservatives in election

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WARSAW, Poland –

Opposition leader Donald Tusk told supporters that political “change for the better is inevitable” in Poland as he opened a massive march Sunday to try to boost his political coalition’s chances of unseating the country’s conservative government in an upcoming parliamentary election.

“No one can stop this force; this giant has awoken,” Tusk told huge crowds gathered in the center of Warsaw two weeks before the Oct. 15 election. “Let no one among the ruling team have any illusions: This change for the better is inevitable.”

His Civic Coalition is vowing to mend ties with the European Union, which has had strained relations with Poland during the eight years the Law and Justice party has governed the country. Tusk spent five years as president of the European Council after serving seven years as Poland’s prime minister.

The four-party coalition also has pledged to pursue more tolerant policies than the nationalist government led by Law and Justice.

Thousands of supporters arrived on buses provided for them from across Poland to take part in the “March of a Million Hearts.” Police closed some downtown streets for the 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) walk. People in the crowd carried national and EU flags.

“When I see this sea of hearts, I can sense that a breakthrough moment is coming in the history our our homeland,” Tusk said to cheers and chants of his name.

Civic Coalition rallies also were planned in other Polish cities. A centrist opposition alliance, the Third Way, abstained from the march in the capital and held its own rallies.

Tusk’s electoral alliance is a few percentage points behind Law and Justice in recent surveys. He says the wider opposition that includes the Left party and Third Way could defeat the ruling party and form a government. He greeted Third Way’s leaders at the start of his march.

A similar march in June drew huge crowds that the organizers estimated at some 500,000.

Tusk, 66, returned to Polish politics several years ago, seeking to breathe new life into his languishing Civic Platform party and to reverse what many view as a degradation of fundamental rights under the Law and Justice-led government.

The governing party and the government itself have waged a hostile and aggressive campaign. The hard-right Confederation party also has been growing in popularity.

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