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World

Poland's President Talks with Opposition, New Protests Held

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo blamed the opposition and appealed for calm and dialogue

People raise placards showing the Head of the Constitutional Court Andrzej Rzeplinski, reading Thank You, as anti-government protesters gather in front of the Constitutional Court to thank for his efforts to defend the court's independence, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, photo: AP/Alik Keplicz
12 months ago

Poland’s president met separately with opposition party leaders Sunday to help solve a political crisis, as anti-government protests were held for the third straight day.

Political tension is rising between Poland’s conservative government and the pro-European Union opposition over the ruling party’s plan to restrict journalists’ access to lawmakers in parliament. The wider conflict started building last year after the party took power and began introducing fast-paced, sweeping changes in many areas including the legislative sector, the media and education. The society has been split into backers and critics of these moves.

The steps that the government has taken to gain influence over a top court have also put it at odds with EU leaders, who say Poland’s democracy and rule of law are threatened.

On Sunday, a few thousand Warsaw residents rallied in front of the court, the Constitutional Tribunal to thank its outgoing head, Andrzej Rzeplinski, for having opposed changes that, opponents say, are against the rule of law.

Carrying Polish and European Union flags they then marched to the parliament building, where Poland’s most serious political crisis in years began Friday.

“We have lost confidence in the government and only the media can watch the government, the lawmakers and tell us what they are really doing,” said Ewa Cisowska, 56, an economist.

Many protesters bitterly said the ruling team was not listening to the people and was not consulting on the steps it was taking.

Former President and democracy champion Lech Walesa said that there was no easy way out of the crisis unless the ruling Law and Justice party resigns from power.

Government supporters waving white-and-red national flags staged a noisy rally in front of the Presidential Palace to show their approval for the current policy and to encourage President Andrzej Duda in his mediation.

Duda, aligned with the ruling party, expressed deep concern over the crisis and was holding talks with opposition leaders. He was to meet Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the ruling party, on Monday.

The first meeting was held with Ryszard Petru, leader of the Modern party, who said they discussed the media regulations and controversies around an irregular budget vote that was taken Friday, when the conflict began. The opposition is demanding a repeat of the vote.

“We are still in a stalemate,” Petru said on TVN24.

European Council President Donald Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister, appealed Saturday for the ruling party to respect the people and the constitution. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo blamed the opposition and appealed for calm and dialogue.

The ruling party has increased welfare spending and still remains popular with many Poles, particularly those outside of the cities and on modest incomes. But its declarations that some social groups have been unjustly privileged under previous governments have angered many.

MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

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