Polish government expresses 'great pain' over stabbing death of Gdansk mayor

The popular liberal mayor of the Polish port city of Gdansk died on Monday after he was stabbed during a charity event the previous evening by an ex-convict who stormed onstage and said it was revenge against the country's main opposition party.

Pawel Adamowicz, in office for 2 decades, was attacked Sunday at a charity event

Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz spoke onstage at a charity event Sunday before he was stabbed. Poland's health minister said Monday that Adamowicz had died. (Grzegoz Mehring/EPA-EFE)

The popular liberal mayor of the Polish port city of Gdansk died on Monday after he was stabbed during a charity event the previous evening by an ex-convict who stormed onstage and said it was revenge against the country's main opposition party.

Pawel Adamowicz, 53, died as a result of wounds to the heart and abdomen in spite of efforts to save him that involved a five-hour operation and blood transfusions, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said.

"The fight for his life has been lost," Szumowski said.

The Twitter account for the City of Gdansk also announced the death.

Thousands of people gathered in Polish cities to mourn the death of Adamowicz, who had been mayor of Gdansk for 20 years and espoused liberal causes, including giving refuge to migrants — at odds with Poland's conservative nationalist government.

Gdansk was the fount of the 1980s Solidarity movement that was instrumental in bringing an end to Communist rule, as were the cities Poznan and Warsaw, the capital. 

Attacker cried 'Adamowicz is dead!'

Adamowicz was attacked while attending the annual Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, which raises money for medical equipment in hospitals. The head of the charity resigned soon after Adamowicz's death was announced.

Television footage of the attack showed a man screaming "Adamowicz is dead!" as he rushed the stage and stabbed the mayor, who crumpled to the floor.

The man suspected of killing the mayor of Gdansk is escorted Monday from the District Prosecutor's Office after a hearing. (Adam Warzawa/EPA-EFE)

Speaking on the stage before he was arrested, the attacker accused the mayor's former party of putting him in prison, where he said he was tortured.

The attacker was identified by Polish authorities as a 27-year-old named Stefan, who was released last month from 
prison where he had served 5½ years for a 2014 conviction for attempted bank robbery. His full name has so far been withheld.

Deputy chief prosecutor Krzysztof Sierak said there are "doubts" as to the mental state of the accused, who used a 14.5-centimetre knife on Adamowicz, and that two psychiatrists will examine him.

Separately, police tweeted late on Monday that a 72-year-old Warsaw man was detained after threatening in a phone call to a social welfare center that the next in line to be killed was President Andrzej Duda.

Adamowicz is survived by his wife and two daughters. 

National day of mourning

In Gdansk, the city flag was lowered to half-mast, and Polish officials said the day of Adamowicz's funeral would be a national day of mourning.

The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party faced accusations that a hostile atmosphere against Adamowicz and other liberals has created fertile ground for violence.

Government officials pushed back against that accusation, strongly denouncing the attack and stressing the assailant had a history of violent bank robberies.

According to a spokesperson for Law and Justice Leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, he said: "'I express great pain after the tragic death resulting from a criminal attack on Gdansk Mayor Mr. Pawel Adamowicz. I remain in solidarity with the family and want to express my deep regret over the death of [their] husband, father and brother.'"

People march in Warsaw on Monday evening against violence and hatred in the wake of a deadly attack on Adamowicz. (Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via Reuters)

Earlier, party spokesperson Beata Mazurek said the attack should be "absolutely condemned by all, regardless of what side of the political spectrum they are on."

She said politicians in Poland need "greater responsibility for words, for deeds" because "there is no shortage of madmen on both sides" of the political scale.

Lech Walesa blames politics

President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the ruling party, opened a news conference with a minute of silence and called Adamowicz a "truly great human being, a great politician and great resident of Gdansk." He denounced the attack as an act of unimaginable evil.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who is from Gdansk, blamed politics for the stabbing.

"All kinds of sick people take to such steps, and it's politics that is to blame, all this situation," said Walesa, who founded the Solidarity trade union in the city in the 1980s.

Former Polish president Lech Walesa, centre left, attends a special mass commemorating Adamowicz on Monday at Gdansk's St. Mary's Church. (Adam Warzawa/EPA-EFE)

Walesa attended a Catholic mass in Adamowicz's memory.

He said he would remember Adamowicz as a "great activist, a person who loved Gdansk" and a man who "was, is and will remain to be my friend."

Donald Tusk, the European Council president from Poland, was among those expressing sorrow on social media: "Paweł Adamowicz, Mayor of Gdańsk, a man of Solidarity and freedom, a European, my good friend, has been murdered. May he rest in peace."

Adamowicz was one of Poland's longest-serving mayors, holding his position in Gdansk since 1998. After leaving the Civic Platform party, he was re-elected in the fall to a sixth term as an Independent candidate, winning 65 per cent of the vote. 

Championed LGBT, refugee rights

The attack on Adamowicz triggered an outpouring of solidarity, with many people donating blood in Gdansk on Monday. Some said they were given time off work to do so.

As mayor, he was a progressive voice, supporting sex education in schools, LGBT rights and tolerance for minorities. He showed solidarity with the Jewish community when Gdansk synagogue had its windows broken last year, strongly denouncing the vandalism.

People hold lit candles in a memorial march in the capital Warsaw. There were vigils in the capital and other Polish cities across a nation shocked by the assassination. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

Adamowicz also advocated bringing wounded Syrian children to Gdansk for medical treatment. The plan, however, was blocked by the Law and Justice government. After he took that stand, a far-right group, the All-Polish Youth, issued what they called a "political death notice" for Adamowicz.

The last politically motivated attack in Poland was in 2010 in Lodz when a man shouting he wanted to kill Law and Justice Leader Kaczynski fatally shot an aide to one of the party's European Parliament lawmakers.

Kaczynski, at the time an opposition leader, blamed the attack on an "atmosphere of hate" under Civic Platform.