Demonstrators renew anti-government protests in Poland

The Polish government has been accused of violating the constitution by taking a vote on next year’s budget outside the main chamber of parliament

Demonstrators renew anti-government protests in Poland

Protesters attend an anti-government demonstration, in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Image: Alik Keplicz AP/Press Association Images

Demonstrators in the Polish capital of Warsaw have renewed their protests following a stand-off with police in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Police forcefully broke up an hours-long blockade of parliament buildings on Friday evening after protestors gathered to voice their opposition to government plans to limit the number of journalists allowed to cover parliament business.

Opposition parties have also accused the right-wing, Law and Justice Party (PiS) of breaking the law by moving a key vote on next year’s budget outside of the main chamber of parliament - and blocking the media from recording the vote.

The opposition had attempted to block the vote in protest against the plans to limit press access to parliament.

It was the first time since Poland's transition from communism in 1989 that a sitting of the lower chamber of parliament and a budget vote were held outside of the main chamber.

A crowd of about 2,000 people gathered outside the presidential palace on Saturday chanting "freedom, equality, democracy."

"PiS has crossed a certain line and nothing will be the same again," Tomasz Siemoniak, deputy leader of the biggest opposition party Civic Platform told local media outside parliament.

Opposition party lawmaker Jerzy Meysztowicz told television network TVN24 that police used tear gas to disperse the protesters who tried to prevent the convoy of cars carrying PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo from leaving.

Warsaw police have denied use of tear gas, but confirmed physical force was used to remove protesters.

Opposition parties have called the budget vote illegal because it was impossible to confirm that the required number of lawmakers was present.

"There is no proof that a quorum of lawmakers was present. We suspect that people who were not allowed to vote took part," leader of the opposition Nowoczesna party Ryszard Petru said.

Before leaving parliament, PiS chairman Kaczynski said the vote was legal and involved the required number of MPs. Other PiS lawmakers have since echoed his comments.

PiS is the first party since Poland's transition to democracy to hold an outright majority in parliament.

The nationalist-minded and eurosceptic ruling party has tightened control over public news media and state prosecution and approved legislation that human rights groups said would curtail freedom of assembly. 

Commentators have warned that further escalation of the conflict might lead to violence.

"It may lead to a nation-wide tragedy. We have to be aware of this," former head of the constitutional court Jerzy Stepien told local media.