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Poland, others mark 15 years in EU amid far-right protests

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland and other nations marked the 15th anniversary of their membership in the European Union with a leaders' summit in Warsaw, while far-right critics celebrated the occasion with protests Wednesday against the 28-nation bloc.

Besides Poland, other countries that joined the EU on May 1, 2004, were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. The embrace of the 10 countries was the largest single expansion in the EU's history.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hosted government heads and officials from the 10 countries at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Leaders from Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, which joined the EU later, were also present.

State and public observances, including rallies and singing of the EU hymn, the "Ode to Joy," stressed Poland's appreciation for the growth and development it has achieved thanks to membership in the bloc.

Hundreds of far-right EU critics, meanwhile, protested outside the summit's venue and then walked to the EU's mission, chanting slogans against what they called the "dictate of Berlin and Brussels." Their pro-EU opponents tried to stop the legal march, blocking its passage, but were removed by the police.

President Andrzej Duda, addressing a rally in the central city of Pulawy, said "Europe is us, the European Union is us," and urged Poles to vote in the European Parliament election, that will be held in Poland on May 26.

Viorica Dancila, the prime minister of Romania, which currently holds EU presidency, said membership in the bloc had raised the nation's living standards and said problems facing the bloc can best be solved through joint decisions and cooperation.

The officials from the EU countries signed a declaration saying EU members should take decisions jointly and in the spirit of cooperation, while stressing that a common market with clear and transparent rules would guarantee further development for all.

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