Protests in Poland sparked by perceived assaults on democracy

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Opponents of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party remained in front of Poland’s parliament building Saturday morning hours after police used force to remove blockades of the building’s exits.

The protesters, who also are staging a new rally outside Poland’s presidential palace, are opposed to a series of government steps they consider anti-democratic.

The protests occurred after the government approved a plan to restrict journalists’ access to members of the parliament.

Opposition lawmakers protested the plan on Friday and blocked a vote on the 2017 budget. Ruling party lawmakers then moved to a nearby hall and approved the budget, a move the opposition said was illegal because it was impossible to confirm that the required number of legislators was present.

The ruling party assumed power less than a year ago and the protests have sparked Poland’s biggest parliamentary crisis in years.

Political Standoff

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak accused opposition parties  of trying to seize power illegally, while lawmakers occupied parliament’s plenary hall for a second day in the country’s biggest political standoff in years.

In the early hours of Saturday, police had forcefully broken up a blockade of the exits from the legislature’s building in central Warsaw, set up by protesters who said ruling party lawmakers had violated the constitution by illegally passing the 2017 budget law Friday.

A spokesman for the Civil Platform (PO) party, the largest opposition group in parliament, said 20 to 30 members of the party had been taking turns sitting in the plenary hall.

“The whole PO parliamentary club is in the Sejm,” Jan Grabiec told Reuters.

About 30 protesters remained in front of the Sejm, according to a Reuters correspondent.

The budget passed with voting taking place in a nearby hall, escalating the conflict between the opposition and PiS, which within a year of assuming power extended its authority by tightening control over public media and weakening the country’s highest court.

“In my opinion, yesterday’s events were an illegal attempt to seize power,” Blaszczak told RMF FM private radio.

Ryszard Petru, leader of the opposition Nowoczesna party, said the next protest was planned for 1100 GMT in front of the Presidential Palace, in Warsaw’s centre.

“If the situation which is taking place, in which … PiS has lost the trust of the people, if the situation continues, early elections will be necessary,” Petru told the TVN 24 private news channel.