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Polish president moves to pardon arrested lawmakers as thousands gather in protest

By Antonia Mortensen and Caitlin Danaher, CNN

(CNN) — Polish President Andrzej Duda says he is seeking a new pardon for two populist lawmakers charged with corruption whose dramatic arrest inside the Presidential Palace brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Warsaw in protest on Thursday.

Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, both MPs in the ousted populist group Law and Justice (PiS), were detained Tuesday after seemingly taking refuge inside the Warsaw palace of the PiS-aligned President Andrzej Duda.

Their arrest was the latest episode in a bitter struggle between Poland’s new centrist government, led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and PiS, which was defeated in October’s election. Kamiński is a former interior minister and Wąsik a former deputy interior minister.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets in Poland’s capital on Thursday to protest their detention, as well as Tusk’s government.

A video posted by PiS MP Katarzyna Sójka showed people filling the streets of Warsaw waving Poland flags.

The protest organizers, PiS, claimed some 100,000 people were present, having gathered from across the country. The police have not released official attendance numbers.

The controversy surrounding the two lawmakers comes after they were last month sentenced to two years in prison and banned from sitting as MPs for five years, over corruption charges relating to PiS’ original term in office, between 2005 and 2007.

That sentencing had infuriated Duda, who had previously pardoned the pair in 2015 in a move that would have spared them jail time but was later overruled by the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, Duda defended his earlier pardoning of the two lawmakers and said that after meeting with their wives he had submitted a new pardon application to the prosecutor general.

“The act of grace that I issued as the president of the Republic of Poland was issued in accordance with the constitution. Completely up to standard and effective. In my personal opinion, these gentlemen are still MPs,” Duda said in a post on X Thursday.

Following the dramatic scenes at the presidential palace Tuesday, Duda said he was “deeply shocked” by the pair’s arrest despite his presidential pardon.

Kamiński and Wasik have started a hunger strike in prison, in protest of their detainment as a “political prisoner,” Wasik’s wife confirmed in an interview with TV Republica on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Rob Picheta

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