Kaczynski slams lawmakers’ protest

WARSAW: The leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on Wednesday told opposition protesters, including MPs occupying parliament’s debating chamber, that their actions were illegal and could lead to a “great calamity”.
But the opposition vowed to continue a six-day-old protest bringing to a head tensions that have been building ever since the socially conservative and nationalist-minded PiS came to power with a large majority 14 months ago.
In particular, it is demanding a re-run of a debate and vote on the 2017 budget that was diverted to a side-room of the lower house, the Sejm, last week because of the sit-in, and held without opposition lawmakers present.
“We are really acting in a restrained way,” Kaczynski told a news conference, flanked by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, the speakers of both chambers of parliament and a deputy speaker, against a backdrop of Polish flags.
“Opposition lawmakers are bound by the law as all other citizens are … Blocking, taking away freedom from citizens, not allowing normal movements are all criminal acts and these acts are accepted (by the opposition),” Kaczynski said.
“This is really a road to a great calamity.”
The stand-off was sparked last week by government plans to curb media access to the Sejm. However, the Sejm’s press office has since promised to consult media on the changes, and the opposition’s focus has now switched to the budget debate, which it says was conducted irregularly and is invalid.
“If PiS is not open to concessions … then I do not see other options than to continue the protest until it is effective,” Ryszard Petru, leader of the liberal Nowoczesna opposition party, told reporters.
Fears of a drift towards authoritarianism under the PiS — which it denies — have led to mass protests in Polish cities over the last year, including a blockade of the parliament building by demonstrators last Friday.
The protests have mainly been peaceful, but since Friday parliament has been surrounded by police, who on Tuesday cordoned it off with metal anti-riot barriers.
Over the weekend, protesters also tried to block Kaczynski’s car from entering the Wawel castle in Krakow, where his brother is buried.
A short video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a PiS minister being harassed by a small group of protesters who shouted insults and tried to grab her scarf before she got into her car.
The PiS came to power promising a return to patriotic and Roman Catholic values in public life and a tougher stance towards the EU and historical adversary Russia.
The government has placed state media and prosecutors under its direct control and changed legislation determining the functioning of the constitutional court, a move forcefully criticised by the European Commission on Wednesday. — Reuters