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Polish nationalists hold Independence Day march in Warsaw after voters reject their worldview

WARSAW. Poland (AP) — Thousands of people walked through Warsaw on Saturday in a march organized by nationalist groups as Poland celebrated its Independence Day holiday, 105 years after the nation regained its statehood at the end of World War I.

Participants carried Poland’s white-and-red flag and some burned flares as they marched along a route leading from the city center to the National Stadium.

While many patriotic events take place across the nation of 38 million each year, the yearly Independence March has come to dominate news coverage because it has sometimes been marred by xenophobic slogans and violence.

This year’s event was attended by some 40,000 and passed off peacefully, the Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, said.

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It came as nationalist forces have seen their worldview rejected by voters. In a national election last month, voters turned out in huge numbers to embrace centrist, moderate conservative and left-wing parties after eight years of rule by a nationalist conservative party that was at odds with the European Union.

The far-right Confederation party, which is ideologically linked to the Independence March, won just 18 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, the Polish parliament. Meanwhile, Law and Justice, the ruling right-wing nationalist party whose leaders joined the march in the past, won the most votes but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

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Donald Tusk, the winning coalition’s candidate to be the next prime minister, appealed for national unity in a message on X, stressing that the holiday is one that belongs to all Poles.

“If someone uses the word nation to divide and sow hatred, he is acting against the nation,” said Tusk, who did not join the march. “Today our nation is celebrating independence. The whole nation, all of Poland.”

The Independence Day holiday celebrates the restoration of Poland’s national sovereignty in 1918, at the end of World War I and after 123 years of rule by Prussia, Austria and Russia.

President Andrzej Duda delivered a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where he warned that Russian imperialism once again threatens not just Ukraine but the wider region.

“Russian imperialism will go further: it will want to seize more nations, taking away their freedom and their states,” Duda said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent Poland a message on X, formerly Twitter, telling Poles: “May your independence be invincible and eternal.”

The march has in the past drawn far-right sympathizers from other European countries, including Hungary and Italy. Among those taking part this year was Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a small far-right party in the U.K.

Football supporters were prominent among the marchers, some holding banners with far-right slogans. However, many families also took part, and there were no arrests. Police removed climate protesters who placed themselves along the route of the march.