Warsaw mayor slams plan to expand city as anti-democratic

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2017 9:31 AM
Warsaw mayor slams plan to expand city as anti-democratic

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Warsaw's mayor harshly denounced a government plan to enlarge the Polish capital to incorporate 32 neighboring municipalities, describing it Thursday as the type of power grab one expects in an authoritarian state like Belarus or Russia.

The plan would increase the chances of the conservative ruling Law and Justice winning control of Warsaw in local elections in 2018. The city's residents tend to be more liberal and more critical of the government than those in surrounding areas, so they could potentially be outvoted.

Work on the plan comes as Law and Justice is centralizing its power in ways denounced by opponents as anti-democratic.

Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, with the opposition centrist Civic Platform party, said that it was a "disgrace."

"It pushes us in the direction of Belarus or even Moscow," she said.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo says that many people in outlying areas want to be incorporated because they would benefit financially and in other ways, allowing, for instance, for the development of improved public transportation for those outside the city.

Another supporter, Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski, said that Warsaw residents now have an "incomparably higher standard of living" and that incorporation would give greater accessibility to culture, art, education and health care to those in outlying areas.

If implemented, the city of 1.7 million people would become geographically bigger than New York or London. The city is 517 square kilometers (200 square miles); with the change it would swell to 2,514 square kilometers (970 square miles).

Warsaw and many other big cities are run by opposition parties, making them points of resistance to the populist government.

Law and Justice also wants to impose limits of two terms for mayors and other local officials before the 2018 elections. That plan is also being sharply criticized as an attempt to strengthen the party's power.

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Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.