Polish police scuffle with protesters demanding 'Free abortion, Free education'

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Police scuffled with protesters who gathered in front of Poland's Education Ministry on Monday following a ruling that tightened restrictions on abortion rights in the Catholic country.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets since the Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Oct. 22 to further limit already restrictive abortion rules, the latest phase of a battle between liberals and religious conservatives in Poland.

Strajk Kobiet (Women's Strike) organised a car blockade on a bridge in Warsaw and dozens gathered separately in front of the ministry in the capital Warsaw late on Monday afternoon, footage from private broadcaster TVN showed.

Protesters unveiled a large poster outside the ministry that read "Free Abortion, Free Education" and chanted "schools free of fascism", state news agency PAP said.

Police cordoned off the building with vans, blocking protesters and lifting up those sitting on the ground, TV footage showed.

Szpila, an "anti-repression" activist group, said four protesters were detained by police. A spokesman for the Warsaw police did not respond to a request for comment.

While centred on abortion, the protests have channeled a broader outpouring of anger at Poland's nationalist rulers and their allies in the Catholic church.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has faced criticism for appointing Przemyslaw Czarnek, a vocal critic of the spread of "LGBT ideology", as minister of education, in what many see as a lurch further to the right on social issues.

Police said one protester was hurt after trying to pull protective glass from a police vehicle. Local media had earlier reported a protester was hit by a police van.

The ruling nationalists have faced criticism for allowing for an increasingly firm police response to the protests.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak, Editing by Timothy Heritage)