Polish 'sit-in' opposition to spend Christmas in parliament

AFP , Friday 23 Dec 2016

Protesters supporting opposition lawmakers stand next to a Christams Tree in front of the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 (Photo: AP)

Polish opposition lawmakers said Friday they would continue to occupy parliament through Christmas and New Year's in protest against what they called the government's anti-democratic actions.

"It's a symbolic and sad protest, a first for Poland's parliament," Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, a lawmaker from the liberal Nowoczesna opposition party, told AFP.

"We plan to stay until at least January 11, when there's a new session of parliament scheduled," added Marcin Kierwinski, a lawmaker from the centrist Civic Platform (PO) opposition party.

The lawmakers launched their sit-in last week, while thousands of demonstrators marched outside, after the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party announced plans to restrict journalists' right to cover legislative proceedings.

Parliament then held a vote on next year's budget in another part of the building because of the opposition takeover of the main chamber.

The opposition claimed the budget was therefore approved illegally and has called for a re-run of the vote.

The PiS has since scrapped the controversial media proposals, which would have restricted access in parliament to only two journalists from each media outlet and banned them from shooting still photography and video.

However, the conservative party has held firm on other decisions it has taken since coming to power last year, which include tightening control over the media and pushing through changes to the constitutional court.

The opposition is backed by a handful of diehard demonstrators who have been camping out in front of the parliament day and night despite the winter cold.

Other Warsaw residents have brought them food and blankets, as well as wood for their fire pits.

"We're here and we'll stay as long as the lawmakers keep up their protest in parliament," said pensioner Kinga Kaminska, who belongs to a small anti-PiS movement.

"I'm not optimistic. (PiS leader) Jaroslaw Kaczynski will not let up. But we won't either," the 69-year-old told AFP, during a 24-hour stint outside parliament.

Kaminska said she would take a break to sleep at home afterward, but would be back to spend Christmas Eve among fellow protestors.

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