Tear gas fired as police block Warsaw march against abortion ruling

Police have blocked protesters from marching in Poland's capital as demonstrations took place across the country against an attempt to restrict abortion rights and recent police violence.

Officers and protesters played a game of cat and mouse in Warsaw as officers set up cordons which the protesters sought to evade, pushing them to try to regroup elsewhere in the city centre.

At one point, protest participants gathered on a major thoroughfare, causing traffic to back up. As drivers honked, the protesters shouted: "We are sorry for the inconvenience, we have a government to overthrow."

Police issued warnings that the demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered ahead of time. It also violated a pandemic-related ban on large gatherings.

"We have a right to protest," participants chanted.

Officers at one point used tear gas against an opposition legislator, Barbara Nowacka, who had been intervening "in defence of peacefully protesting women," said Borys Budka, the head of Poland's centrist Civic Platform party.

Protesters in the capital began their demonstration by symbolically "renaming" a central square to Women's Rights Roundabout. An activist climbed on to a ladder on a van to hang a new street sign over the official one reading Roman Dmowski Roundabout.

Women's rights activists want authorities to formally approve the name change. They say it would honour a movement for equality rather than Mr Dmowski, a statesman who had a key role in helping Poland regain national independence in 1918, but who was also an anti-Semite.

Protests in Krakow, Gdansk and other cities were organised to celebrate Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago. The events were planned under the slogan "In the name of mother, daughter, sister".

The demonstrations are part of what has evolved into Poland's largest protest movement since communism fell in the country 30 years ago.

An October 22 ruling by the Polish constitutional court to ban abortions of foetuses with congenital defects, even when the foetus has no chance of survival at birth, sparked the protests.