Riot police in the Polish capital used truncheons yesterday to break up a crowd of right-wing extremists pelting them with firecrackers and lumps of concrete after a parade to mark a national holiday turned violent.
Thousands of police had earlier lined the streets of Warsaw to try to stop right-wing nationalists and radical left-wing groups from using the holiday as an opportunity to fight each other.
It was the second year the celebrations have degenerated into violence, underlining the deep gulf between those who want a conservative, religious society that rejects foreign influence and those who want Poland to join the European mainstream.
As demonstrators gathered for the right-wing rally, young men with their faces covered by scarves chanted nationalist slogans and railed against supposed Jewish conspiracies.
“Poland is going in… the direction of dependency, energy dependency, economic dependency,” said a demonstrator, who gave his name as Wojciech.
The fighting started when some of the right-wing protesters threw firecrackers and projectiles at police in riot gear who had cordoned off the area.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, addressing the official independence day parade in Warsaw a few hours before the violence broke out, appealed for a less polarised society.
“Today public life is poisoned by excessive rows,” he said. “We should be critical, but criticism should not mean mutual destruction.”
On the same date last year, right-wing demonstrators fought pitched battles with police who were trying to prevent them attacking a counter-demonstration by left-wing radicals.
Prime minister Donald Tusk, a liberal, is credited by many Poles for bringing political stability.