WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw and other Polish cities Saturday, waving European Union flags in a show of support for the troubled European project as leaders in Rome marked the 60th anniversary of its founding treaty.
The rallies, held under the slogan "I Love You, Europe," also marked a strong expression of disapproval for the country's nationalist, Euroskeptic government in Warsaw, which was recently involved in a bitter standoff with the bloc.
The largest event was in Warsaw, where thousands began the demonstration by singing the European anthem "Ode to Joy" and the Polish national anthem before marching to the Royal Castle in the historic town center.
"Poland's place is in the EU," they chanted.
Participants recalled Poland's isolation for decades behind the Iron Curtain and expressed gratitude for the economic and democratic advances that have arrived hand-in-hand with EU membership. Some expressed fears that the government's policies could ultimately result in Poland leaving the EU.
"We will not let ourselves be led out of Europe," said Ryszard Petru, the head of the opposition Modern party.
Petru also said the ruling conservative Law and Justice party's stance on Europe doesn't reflect the will of the nation, which is overwhelmingly pro-EU. Recent opinion polls put support for the EU by Poles at around 80 percent.
The Polish government denies that leaving the EU is its aim and insists that it instead simply wants reforms and wants to keep the bulk of power with national governments, not in Brussels.
Recent tensions centered on stiff opposition by the Polish government to the re-election of Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, as head of the European Council. Tusk has long been a political rival of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party.
Before the EU meeting in Rome, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had also threatened not to endorse the declaration. But on the eve of the summit she backed away from the position and signed it.
The declaration from the EU's 60th anniversary summit in Rome is intended to show the group's unity and strength just days before Britain triggers a procedure to leave the 28-nation bloc.