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Poland Drops Media Access Proposals after Protests

(AFP) – Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday announced that the governing conservatives have scrapped controversial proposals to restrict media access in parliament that had set off an opposition outcry and street demonstrations.

But while the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) appeared to offer compromise on the media rules, a row over a budget vote deemed “illegal” by the opposition intensified.

The PiS “has abandoned its (media) proposal which triggered the row we saw in parliament… Everything has been reset,” Duda said in an interview on Poland’s TVP public broadcaster.

Senate speaker Stanislaw Karczewski, a PiS member, earlier assured journalists that the old media rules would remain in place for the time being. He said he would present new proposals by January 6.

Duda called on opposition lawmakers, who have been occupying parliament since Friday, to “offer a goodwill gesture” and cease their protest.

“I’m calling for just a little reflection and calm, because this is an important domestic issue. Plus the holiday season is upon us and Poles are concerned by the situation. I want the problem resolved,” he said.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets since Friday in Warsaw and other parts of the country in the latest action against PiS moves deemed anti-democratic by its opponents.

Dozens of opposition MPs seized parliament’s main chamber and protesters blocked the exits to the building on Friday in a show of anger.

Thousands of people — grouped in a popular movement called the Committee for the Defence of Democracy — rallied outside parliament in support of the opposition MPs until late Sunday.

A smaller pro-government rally took place outside the presidential palace.

In Krakow on Sunday, police removed protesters who lay on the ground to block the car of influential PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was visiting the grave of his twin brother, former president Lech Kaczynski who died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.

– ‘Illegal’ budget vote –

The political crisis was triggered last week by PiS plans to restrict 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 would have prevented the media from recording images of lawmakers when they broke the rules, for example by voting for an absent colleague.

The PiS said it was seeking to ensure a comfortable working environment for both lawmakers and journalists.

Opposition lawmakers also called for a re-run of a parliament vote on next year’s budget, which they claim was approved illegally when it was held in another part of parliament after the opposition takeover of the main chamber.

The Senate is due to examine the budget Tuesday.

Since taking office in November last year, the PiS has come under fire over a string of controversial measures including tightening control over the media and pushing through changes to the constitutional court which led to a standoff with the European Union.

Monday is the last day in office of the outgoing president of the constitutional court, Andrzej Rzeplinski, a symbol of resistance to the government.

The question of his successor has become another bone of contention between the court and the PiS-dominated parliament.

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