The Latest: Poland prime minister defends courts legislation

The Latest on Poland's parliamentary vote (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

Poland's prime minister has made a televised speech defending the ruling party's controversial reorganization of the country's legal system that includes giving politicians influence over the judiciary, including the country's top court.

Beata Szydlo said Thursday night that the legislation was a result of public criticism of the legal system's inefficiency and blamed the public outcry it has triggered on the "frustration" of the opposition.

The opposition says the changes are unconstitutional and destroy judicial independence.

Szydlo insisted the government will not bow to pressure "from Polish or from foreign defenders of the interest of the elites."

Her comments appear to refer to warnings from the European Union of sanctions against Poland, including a possibility of stripping Warsaw of its EU voting rights.

Szydlo spoke as thousands of government opponents gathered in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw, and in some other cities, to urge President Andrzej Duda to reject the bill on the Supreme Court and two earlier legislations regarding the judiciary.

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8:40 p.m.

Thousands of government opponents have gathered in downtown Warsaw to urge Poland's president to reject legislation recently approved by lawmakers that gives politicians control of the judiciary, including the country's top court.

Opposition lawmakers and celebrities have joined the crowd in front of the presidential palace that is chanting "free courts" and waving national and European Union flags. The demonstrators sang the national anthem to stress that they are defending Polish values.

They want President Andrzej Duda to veto a bill adopted by lawmakers on Thursday that gives the president the power to regulate the work of the Supreme Court and to appoint its judges. They also want Duda to veto two earlier pieces of legislation regarding a key judicial body and ordinary courts.

Critics and European Union leaders say the legislation kills judicial independence, threatens democracy and goes against EU values.

The ruling populist Law and Justice party says the justice system is inefficient and needs radical reform.

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6:15 p.m.

European Union President Donald Tusk has urged Poland's President Andrzej Duda to meet him and discuss the changes the ruling party is making to the nation's judiciary that have drawn condemnation from EU bodies.

Poland's lawmakers on Thursday approved a law that gives the president, not judges, the power to regulate the work of the Supreme Court and to appoint its judges. Critics say the bill kills judicial independence and puts judges under political control.

Tusk, former Polish prime minister, wrote in a statement Thursday that "Subjecting the court to one ruling party in the way that Law and Justice has proposed it will ruin already strained opinion on Poland's democracy."

He said asked Duda for a meeting even before Thursday's vote and urged him to find "serious means and serious partners" in trying to solve the situation.

The Supreme Court bill still needs approval from the Senate and from Duda, who hails from the ruling party.

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4:15 p.m.

Polish opposition lawmaker and former justice minister Borys Budka says the contentious bill passed by lawmakers earlier in the day will make judges dependent on a single party, the ruling populist Law and Justice party, and deny the citizens the right to independent courts.

Budka also condemned the speed with which the vote was handled, without proper public consultation. The bill passed 235-192 with 23 abstentions.

Polish lawmakers voted Thursday to approve a contentious bill that gives control of the top court to politicians instead of judges. It has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests. Critics say it kills judicial independence and violates the rule of law.

The bill still needs approval from Poland's upper house, the Senate and from Duda, before it takes effect.

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3:40 p.m.

Opponents of the Polish government are protesting in front of the parliament building in Warsaw after the adoption of a bill that gives the president control over the Supreme Court instead of judges.

They have started kicking and hitting the metal barriers that separate them from the parliament grounds. Some carried banners Thursday urging President Andrzej Duda to veto the bill.

The bill, passed Thursday by the lower house of parliament, still needs approval from Poland's upper house, the Senate and from Duda, before it takes effect.

A Senate commission was to open debate on it Thursday and the chamber, dominated by the ruling party, was expected to approve it on Friday.

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3 p.m.

Polish lawmakers have voted to approve a contentious law that gives control of the top court to politicians instead of judges.

Thursday's bill on the Supreme Court has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests. Critics say it kills judicial independence and violates the rule of law.

Proposed by the ruling populist Law and Justice party it gives the nation's president the power to influence the court's work and to appoint its judges. It calls for the dismissal of the court's current judges, except those chosen by the president.

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12:30 p.m.

A Polish parliamentary commission has summarily rejected 1,300 opposition amendments to a bill reorganizing the nation's top court and has sent it back to lawmakers for a vote.

The Supreme Court bill, which has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests, is expected to pass Thursday as the parliament is dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party.

Proposed by the populist party, it gives politicians control over Poland's Supreme Court, and critics say it kills judicial independence.

The European Commission has warned it could strip Poland of its European Union voting rights over the changes the government is making to the judiciary.

Public protests are planned for Thursday evening.