Poland’s opposition to continue protest

WARSAW/KRAKOW: Polish opposition leaders called on Saturday for days of anti-government protests and pledged to keep blocking parliament’s main hall after being accused of trying to seize power illegally by a government they say has violated the constitution. Several thousand people protested in Warsaw and other cities after police broke up a blockade of the parliament building in Warsaw in the early hours. About two dozen members of the opposition Civic Platform (PO) had been taking turns to sit in the legislature’s plenary hall through the night and the party’s leader said they would remain there for the next few days.
“We will be on the streets until they are done destroying the country,” Mateusz Kijowski, the leader of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy movement, told protesters. Poland’s biggest political standoff in years began on Friday when opposition lawmakers objecting to plans by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to curb media access to parliament blocked the plenary hall podium ahead of a budget vote. PiS lawmakers later moved voting to another area without media access, prompting accusations they had passed the 2017 budget illegally, breaching the constitution.
The clash with the opposition has highlighted a growing divide in eastern Europe’s largest economy, with some Poles increasingly angry over the PiS government’s efforts to assert more control over state institutions.
“If it becomes clear that it is impossible to talk to (PiS lawmakers), we should have early elections,” Ryszard Petru, head of the liberal Nowoczesna grouping, told protesters in front of parliament.
A snap election is unlikely, however, as PiS holds an outright majority in parliament and would be able to overrule any vote of no confidence.
Poland’s Western allies have also expressed concerns over a push by the government to reform the constitutional court, saying it contravened democratic standards.
But despite criticism at home and abroad, the eurosceptic PiS enjoys steady support among many Poles eager to hear its message of higher welfare, more Catholic values in public life and less dependence on foreign capital.
Government officials deny behaving undemocratically and have accused opposition leaders of fomenting dissent.
Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in an interview with RMF FM private radio that the opposition blockade of parliament was an “illegal attempt to seize power”.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, speaking at an event with firefighters in the southern city of Krakow, said opposition politicians “have forgotten we need to respect each other and we need to be responsible”.
“For many, the focus of their activity is brawls,” she said.
A correspondent in Warsaw and other journalists were not allowed to enter parliament on Saturday, which Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said was unacceptable.
“Parliament cannot be governed by censorship,” he told a press conference. “It cannot be without journalists.”
“PiS has crossed a certain line and nothing will be the same again,” Tomasz Siemoniak, deputy leader of the biggest opposition party Civic Platform told local media outside parliament.
Opposition party lawmaker Jerzy Meysztowicz told television network TVN24 that police used tear gas to disperse the protesters who tried to prevent the convoy of cars carrying Kaczynski and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo from leaving.
Warsaw police spokesman Mariusz Mrozek denied use of tear gas, but confirmed physical force was used to remove protesters.
Mrozek said the gathering before the parliament has been declared illegal starting from midnight.
By 0237 GMT, many protesters had left, but some remained. Several opposition lawmakers said they would spend the night in parliament.
Polish opposition parties accused PiS of violating the constitution after Speaker Marek Kuchcinski moved a key vote on next year’s budget outside of the main chamber of parliament and blocked the media from recording the vote.
It was the first time since Poland’s transition from communism in 1989 that a sitting of the lower chamber of parliament and a budget vote were held outside of the main chamber. — Reuters