Location Poland Poland

Protests in Poland enter third day

Anti-government rallies and counter-marches are planned in Poland on Sunday in a third day of protests as the country faces a political crisis sparked by planned new rules on media access to parliament.

Anti-government protesters met in Warsaw next to the headquarters of the Constitutional Tribunal to show their solidarity with head judge Andrzej Rzepliński, whose term ends on Monday.

Rzepliński has been a thorn in the side of the Law and Justice (PiS)-led government since it came to power in October 2015. The Tribunal has blocked some bills swept through by the party, which holds a majority in parliament and the Senate.

Changes to the makeup of the Tribunal that are supported by Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government have been the focus of a number of visits by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission watchdog, as well as debates in the European Parliament on the rule of law in Poland.

PiS argues that the Tribunal needs reform while the justice system in general still carries the vestiges of the former communist system of government, which the ruling party has vowed to wipe out.

Recent announcements of new rules on media access to parliament sparked rallies on Friday and Saturday in the capital, Warsaw, and in other cities.

March to ‘support democracy’

Meanwhile, the conservative Gazeta Polska weekly has called a separate rally to “support democracy” in Poland, particularly aimed at private media outlets, which it considers to be part of the opposition “regime”.

“I appeal to you not to give in to any provocation. Especially, do not allow provocations and attacks from [TV broadcasters] TVN, Polsat, and [newspaper] Gazeta Wyborcza and similar regime media,” said Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska.

The march will convene in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

‘Respect’ constitution

Tensions between opposition and government MPs came to a head on Friday when the parliamentary Speaker excluded from debate an opposition deputy who had raised the issue of the new media rules during a debate on Friday.

As a result, opposition MPs stormed the rostrum, bringing the debate to a close. Several dozen of them have since been staging a sit-it protest in the plenary hall. They announced the protest would last until Tuesday.

During a trip to Wrocław in south-western Poland on Saturday, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, appealed to all those involved to respect the principles of the constitution.

“Following [Friday’s] events in parliament and on the streets of Warsaw […] I appeal to those who have real power for respect and consideration of the people, constitutional principles and morals,” Tusk said.

‘Apolitical’ police

Meanwhile, a police trade union has issued a statement saying it does not want to be dragged into political squabbles, and that interventions by officers in front of the parliament building on Friday were part of their duties.

Amateur videos posted online showed police officers pinning protesters to the ground and dragging people away late on Friday following a key parliamentary vote on next year’s budget which opposition deputies have called “illegal”. These claims were denied by PiS.

In the statement, the NSZZP trade union said it frowned on “attempts by various political circles to use the police to obtain temporary political gains”. It added that the police force is an “apolitical formation”, and involving it in political discourse is “unacceptable”.

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