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Poland president in crisis talks on third day of protests

A caricature depicting Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of leading PIS party as General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who imposed the martial law in Poland in 1981 is seen during an anti-government protest in front of the Constitutional Court to thank the outgoing head of court Andrzej Rzeplinski for his efforts to defend its independence, in Warsaw on December 18, 2016. Polish President Andrzej Duda was holding talks Sunday to try to end a seething political crisis which has seen mass anti-government protests across the country and a parliamentary blockade. Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP

A caricature depicting Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of leading PIS party as General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who imposed the martial law in Poland in 1981 is seen during an anti-government protest in front of the Constitutional Court to thank the outgoing head of court Andrzej Rzeplinski for his efforts to defend its independence, in Warsaw on December 18, 2016. Polish President Andrzej Duda was holding talks Sunday to try to end a seething political crisis which has seen mass anti-government protests across the country and a parliamentary blockade.<br />Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP

Polish protesters staged a third day of mass anti-government demonstrations on Sunday as President Andrzej Duda embarked on mediation talks to try to end the seething political crisis.

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 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 MPs 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 by forcing their vehicles through the crowd with the help of police.

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 EU, 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.

The opposition has also voiced objections to the adoption of the 2017 budget which it claims was done illegally when the vote was held in another area of parliament after the opposition takeover of the main chamber.

Duda’s spokesman Marek Magierowski said the president began meetings Sunday with opposition party chiefs to try to ease the escalating tensions.

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”.

Duda is due to meet Kaczynski on Monday, according to PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek, quoted by the PAP news agency.

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.

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Andrzej Duda


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