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The EU and the Council of Europe on Sunday voiced regret and alarm over the Polish right-wing government's move to withdraw from a landmark international treaty combating

violence against women. 

The Council of Europe said it was "alarmed" that Poland's right-wing government was moving to withdraw from a landmark international treaty combating violence against women. 

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said over the weekend that on Monday he would begin preparing the formal process to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.

The treaty is the world's first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation. 

Ziobro has in the past dismissed it as "an invention, a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology".

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, told AFP in Brussels that it "regrets that such an important matter has been distorted by misleading arguments in some member states".

The Commission added that it would "continue its efforts to finalise the EU's accession" of the convention, which was signed in 2017 but has not yet been ratified.

- 'Highly regrettable' -

A previous centrist Polish government signed the treaty in 2012 and it was ratified in 2015.

The treaty was spearheaded by the Council of Europe, the continent's oldest human rights organisation, and its Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric condemned the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government's plan to withdraw.

"Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe," she said in a statement on Sunday.

"If there are any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the convention, we are ready to clarify them in a constructive dialogue." 

Around two thousand people marched in the Polish capital Warsaw on Friday to protest the government's withdrawal plan, some shouting "stop violence against women".

There was also outrage from several members of the European Parliament, with Iratxe Garcia Perez, the Spanish leader of the Socialist group, calling the decision "disgraceful".

"I stand with Polish citizens taking (to) the streets to demand respect for women's rights," he tweeted.

The leader of the EU parliament's Renew Europe group, Romania's former prime minister Dacian Ciolos, tweeted: "Using the fight against the Istanbul Convention as an instrument to display its conservatism is a new pitiful and pathetic move by some within the PiS government".

- Other countries rejecting treaty -

Irish centre-right MEP Frances Fitzgerald said it was now essential for the whole of the EU to ratify the convention "so that no woman is left unprotected and vulnerable to violence".

The Council of Europe stressed that the Istanbul Convention's "sole objective" was to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

Although the treaty does not explicitly mention gay marriage, that has not stopped the backlash to it in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

In Slovakia, the parliament rejected the treaty insisting -- without proof -- that it was at odds with the country's constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, has no binding powers but brings together 47 member states to make recommendations on rights and democracy.

Warsaw has already clashed with the EU Commission over reforms to its judicial system, championed by recently re-elected President Andrzej Duda.

Turkey is also mulling a possible withdrawal from the treaty, and on Sunday, women marched in several cities there to express support for the treaty.

The demonstrations also reflect rising anger in Turkey at the growing number of women killed, including the murder of university student Pinar Gultekin this month.AFP, photo by AFP

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