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February 11, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of protesters with flags and banners marched in downtown Warsaw on Saturday against the ruling party’s plan to enlarge the Polish capital by incorporating 32 neighboring municipalities.

The ruling populist Law and Justice party says the move will help the neighborhoods develop by linking them closer with the capital, which provides jobs, education and entertainment for the region. Opponents say the move will deprive local governments of decision-making powers but is chiefly designed to help the ruling party win control of Warsaw in the 2018 local election. Warsaw voters largely support the opposition pro-business Civic Platform party, while Law and Justice has more backing in the suburbs.

Under the plan, Warsaw, a city of 1.7 million, would have more territory than New York City or London. Currently at 517 square kilometers (200 square miles) it would swell to 2,514 square kilometers (970 square miles).

The protesters marched from the Town Hall to the Presidential Palace. The march was organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, which has been staging protests since the conservative Law and Justice party took power in late 2015 and embarked on sweeping changes to many walks of life.

“We want to protest against Law and Justice taking over local governments, which goes against good practice,” committee leader Mateusz Kijowski told The Associated Press. “It would destroy Warsaw’s self-government and those of the neighboring communities.”

But Sylwester Puchala, the administrative head of Prazmow, a small community south of Warsaw, said its incorporation into the capital would help develop it and would also help Warsaw, which needs more space.

Following protests, the ruling party said the plan will be open for public consultations before it is debated by lawmakers.

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