GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) – Wearing flags and candles in cold streets, thousands of Poles marched Friday in front of the coffin of former mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, stabbed on stage at a police station. charity event.

PHOTO FILE: Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz speaks at the 27th Grand Finale of the Christmas Charity Orchestra in Gdansk, Poland on January 13, 2019. Agencja Gazeta / Bartosz Banka / File Photo via REUTERS

The assassination of a liberal critic of the ruling party's anti-immigrant policies has brought to light the heavy atmosphere in parts of Eastern Europe where populist leaders have fueled nationalist sentiment.

A car slowly drove Adamowicz's corpse through the Baltic coastal city from the Museum of the Solidarity Movement, which helped bring down communism in Poland 30 years ago.

From there, he passed through schools, monuments and other important places in Adamowicz's life, at the age of 53, before going to the city's main church, St. Mary's Basilica. to be buried on Saturday.

The streets, in some places covered with heavy snow, were blocked, the crowds paid tribute to one of Poland's oldest mayors, who had ruled the city since 1998 and who had beaten the ruling party's candidate, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in October.

"After the mayor's departure, we all feel a great void, especially because he's gone in such a way, in such a city, in such a moment. I think that a certain stage of history, of humanity, is over, "said Ewa Wasinska-Stelter, a bereavement teacher.

Adamowicz was attacked on stage at one of Poland's biggest annual charity events and died the next day.

Polish authorities have arrested a 27-year-old former convict, appointed only by Stefan W., after the murder. Speaking on stage, the attacker accused the former mayor's party of putting him in jail where he was allegedly tortured.

He was released last month after five and a half years in prison for attempting to steal from a bank.

Authorities have also arrested at least 10 people in recent days for launching a call for assassination and other acts of aggression on social media following the death of Adamowicz. .

Critics accuse Polish politicians of multiplying hate speech in public life.

Adamowicz was one of 11 Polish mayors targeted by fake death certificates by a far-right group called All-Polish Youth in 2017, after signing a statement to welcome the refugees who oppose to government policy.

Support for the conservative PiS party fell to 30% after Adamowicz's death, according to a poll by Kantar Millward Brown for Gazeta Wyborcza, after 33% in November. The largest opposition group, Koalicja Obywatelska, holds 25%.

In addition to encouraging migrants to seek refuge in Gdansk, Adamowicz was known for his support for a rule of law campaign against what activists see as PiS efforts to increase political control of the judiciary and other organs.

Written by Marcin Goclowski; Edited by Andrew Cawthorne