Polish leaders flee parliament siege
The Sejm, Poland’s lower house. Source: Wikimedia
The head of Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left parliament on Saturday morning after police forcefully removed protesters blocking the exit to the building, television showed.
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and several other ministers left in the same convoy, TVN24 showed.
Opposition party MP Jerzy Meysztowicz told the broadcaster that police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Activists were also opposing a plan by the ruling right-of-centre populists to limit journalists’ access to the parliament.
Rules proposed by the head office of the Sejm, the lower house, would ban all recording of parliamentary sessions except by five selected television broadcasters and limit the number of journalists being allowed inside the compound. The changes are due to take effect in 2017.
Protesters blocked all exits on Friday after the opposition said PiS MPs illegally passed the 2017 budget by moving the vote outside of the main chamber.
It marked a new low since PiS took power in October 2015.
“Everybody sees that PiS has crossed a certain line and nothing will be the same any more,” said Tomasz Siemoniak, deputy leader of the opposition Civic Platform.
The police were reportedly armed with rubber bullet and riot guns.
The opposition accused PiS of violating the constitution after Speaker Marek Kuchcinski moved the budgetary vote outside the chamber. It was the first time since 1989 that the lower house met outside the chamber.
“The ‘sitting’ was illegal. Period. This is a constitutional crisis,” Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna posted on social media.
On Friday, inside parliament, liberal opposition MPs protested against the new media rules by standing around the Speaker’s podium for several hours. The PiS, which is the first party since the 1989 move to democracy to hold an overall majority in parliament, reacted by moving the budgetary vote.
The Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) organised the protest which endured the cold weather from Friday and waved the national flags and chanted “free media”.
Radek Sikorski, a former foreign minister, addressed the protest, denouncing Kaczynski, the most powerful politician in Poland and chairman of the PiS that is introducing many sweeping changes.