December 18, 2016
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Police removed several protesters blocking a prominent Polish governing party member’s car Sunday in a southern city as the president met in the capital with opposition leaders to help solve a growing political crisis.
The demonstrators sat in a street in Krakow trying to prevent Law and Justice party member Ryszard Terlecki from entering Wawel Castle. He was joining party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was on a private visit to the tomb of his twin brother, the late President Lech Kaczynski.
Police officers dragged the protesters away and ensured safe passage. Later, people chanted “Shame! Shame!” at the car that was carrying Kaczynski out of the castle. Political tension is rising between Poland’s conservative government and the pro-European Union opposition over the ruling party’s plan to restrict journalists’ access to lawmakers in parliament. The wider conflict started building last year after the Law and Justice party took power and began introducing sweeping reforms.
The steps that the government has taken to gain influence over a top court have also put it at odds with EU leaders, who say Poland’s democracy and rule of law are threatened. On Sunday, a few thousand Warsaw residents rallied in front of the court, the Constitutional Tribunal. They were supportive of its outgoing head, Andrzej Rzeplinski, for having opposed changes that critics say are against the rule of law. The appointment of Rzeplinski’s successor is expected to create further tension in the coming days.
Carrying Polish and EU flags, the crowd then marched to parliament, where Poland’s most serious political crisis in years began Friday. Some protesters were still there late Sunday. “We have lost confidence in the government and only the media can watch the government, the lawmakers and tell us what they are really doing,” 56-year-old economist Ewa Cisowska said.
Former President Lech Walesa said that there was no easy way out of the crisis unless the Law and Justice party resigns from power. But the government has remained defiant. Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski told a huge crowd of supporters in front of the Presidential Palace that the government was defending democracy.
President Andrzej Duda, aligned with the ruling party, expressed deep concern over the crisis and held talks with four opposition leaders Sunday. He will meet Kaczynski on Monday. The ruling party has increased welfare spending and still remains popular with many Poles, particularly those outside of the cities and on modest incomes. But its declarations that some social groups have been unjustly privileged under previous governments have angered many, especially after government backers started chanting “thieves,” in reference to the opposition.