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Polish opposition MPs in all-night protest after controversial vote

PR dla Zagranicy
Roberto Galea 17.12.2016 09:06
Polish opposition MPs staged an all night sit-in protest in parliament following a controversial budget vote late on Friday, while police were called to control demonstrators outside the building.
Opposition MPs spent the night in the plenary hall of the Polish parliament. Photo: PAP/Marcin ObaraOpposition MPs spent the night in the plenary hall of the Polish parliament. Photo: PAP/Marcin Obara

Among the dozen deputies who spent the night inside the main parliamentary hall were former Speaker Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, from the Civic Platform (PO), the largest party in opposition.

The sit-in protest was held after commotion during a plenary session on Friday when Michał Szczerba, a deputy for the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party, was excluded from debate after speaking out about planned new rules on journalists’ access to parliament.

PO MP Agnieszka Pomaska told the private TVN broadcaster that deputies “will protest as long as it takes”. They demanded that Szczerba’s voting rights should be reinstated.

‘Parliamentary hooliganism'

Addressing journalists, the head of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that by blocking the rostrum, the opposition was committing “parliamentary hooliganism”.

“We will not be terrorised; we will certainly pass the budget,” he added.

Opposition questions legality of vote

Following a recess lasting several hours, Speaker Marek Kuchciński, from PiS, resumed the session of parliament at an alternative sitting in an ancillary room in the building.

In a hasty ballot, PiS and a handful of opposition deputies voted through the 2017 budget, as well as a bill to lower the pensions of communist-era police and army forces.

The vote was held by a raising of hands, and deputies from the opposition PO and Nowoczesna parties questioned whether a quorum – the minimum number of MPs needed to vote – was met.

With emotions running high, PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna said following the vote: “This is a constitutional crisis.” However PiS MPs insisted the ballot was legal.

According to analysts, this was the first time a room other than the plenary hall was used to vote on a major bill since the fall of communism in 1989.

Bid to block MPs from leaving

Meanwhile, a rally called by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) movement gathered outside the parliament building, with a crowd of Warsaw residents chanting their support for the MPs protesting inside.

Before the break of dawn on Saturday, the protesters tried to stop PiS deputies from leaving the building. Police who were called in to watch over the protest blocked off the street leading out of parliament, allowing the MPs to drive away.

Photo: PAP/Marcin Obara

In the commotion which ensued, several protesters were thrown to the ground by police, and a number of people were detained, according to KOD.

In a later tweet, police said that despite earlier reports, no tear gas was used to break up the protest. In another statement they said they “had no information” of people being injured.

The events on Friday fell on the 35th anniversary of the Wujek mine massacre, when communist-era police cracked down on protesting miners, leading to the death of nine men.

Anger at new rules

Dozens of Polish media outlets and opposition politicians protested on Friday against new rules on access by journalists to the parliament building in Warsaw which are set to come into force on 1 January, 2017.

Broadcasters will be provided studio space in a separate building a short distance away from parliament to conduct interviews with MPs.

Journalists - except those from five selected stations - would only be allowed to conduct audio interviews in the main parliament building. At present journalists have access to much of the parliament building, where they can ask MPs questions.

Kaczyński said that the bustle of journalists inside parliament has led him to "be hit in the head by cameras several times". (rg/pk)

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