WARSAW: Polish President Andrzej Duda launched mediation talks on Sunday to try to diffuse the nation’s seething political crisis, as protesters staged a third day of mass anti-government demonstrations.
Opposition lawmakers were also continuing to occupy parliament in a defiant show of anger against the rightwing Law and Justice party (Pis) over the budget and plans to introduce new restrictions on the media.
Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets since Friday in Warsaw and other parts of the country in the latest popular action against moves deemed anti-democratic by the PiS since it took office after October 2015 elections.
In an unprecedented night of unrest on Friday, dozens of opposition members of parliament seized parliament’s main chamber and protesters blocked the exits to the building.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and influential PiS party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski only managed to leave the building after Friday’s protest by forcing their vehicles through the crowd with the help of police.
After meeting with Duda on Sunday, opposition leaders told the press they had demanded the proposed media limits be dropped and called for a re-run of the parliament vote on next year’s budget.
The opposition claims the spending plan was approved illegally when the vote was held in another area of parliament after the opposition takeover of the main chamber.
“The president has asked for a legal analysis relating to the part of the parliamentary session” dedicated to the budget vote, said his spokesman Marek Magierowski.
Duda is to meet on Monday with Kaczynski and Marek Kuchcinski, president of parliament’s lower house.
Since taking office, the PiS has come under fire over a string of controversial measures including tightening the abortion law, a crackdown on the media and changes to the constitutional court which led to a standoff with the European Union.
‘Impossible to function’
Demonstrators were back out on Sunday, gathering outside the court in a show of support for its outgoing president Andrzej Rzeplinski, a symbol of resistance to the government.
The controversial changes to the court’s decision-making rules alarmed the European Union, which demanded the government reverse the measures or face sanctions.
Rzeplinski’s mandate ends on Monday and the question of his successor has become another bone of contention between the court and the PiS-dominated parliament.
Smaller protests were held in other parts of the country, including Krakow, where demonstrators attempted to prevent Szydlo and Kaczynski getting through to his twin brother’s tomb.
A pro-government rally drew about 1,000 people outside the presidential palace in Warsaw.
Emerging from a long silence, Duda had on Saturday called for calm, expressing his “worry” over the turmoil and offering to mediate.
“I think a deal of some kind is necessary because it is impossible to function in a system where the parliament cannot debate,” his spokesman told news channel TVN24.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman has denounced the occupation of parliament as a “a violation of the law”.
The latest opposition outcry was triggered by PiS plans to grant access to the parliament’s press gallery to only two journalists for every media outlet, and ban them from shooting still pictures or video.
The moves prevent the media from recording images of lawmakers when they break the rules, for example by voting for an absent colleague.
The PiS has defended the measure, saying it was seeking to ensure a comfortable working environment for both lawmakers and journalists.