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Polish lawmakers return to work as blockade continues

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s conservative government and the opposition showed no sign of reaching a compromise in an unprecedented crisis which involves opposition lawmakers blocking the main hall in parliament for weeks.

Parliament was scheduled to open its session Wednesday at noon, but dozens of lawmakers continued a sit-in in the main hall of parliament, occupying the speaker’s chair and refusing demands by the ruling party that they move.

It was not clear how the normal functioning of the Sejm, or lower house of parliament, might resume. Party leaders held emergency meetings, each side hoping to get out of the mess without losing face.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party chairman and the country’s de facto leader, has accused the opposition lawmakers of attempting a “putsch” against the authorities.

On Tuesday evening he said he would not yield to “those breaking the law, those who want to paralyze the Sejm, those who want to see our great plan to fix the republic fail.”

Kaczynski is working to reinforce the country’s patriotic and Catholic traditions and rejecting liberal values that have arrived with 13 years of European Union membership.

Kaczynski’s opponents say his populist methods are increasingly authoritarian and that the blockade of parliament is aimed at defending democratic standards.

The European Union says Poland is violating rule-of-law norms, particularly with moves that have neutralized the constitutional court.

Two centrist opposition parties, Civic Platform and Modern, began their occupation of the area around the speaker’s podium in the main hall on Dec. 16 to protest government attempts to limit media access to parliament. Amid the uproar the government backed down on that proposal.

The main point of contention now is the budget vote held in a different room in parliament while the opposition lawmakers blocked the plenary hall. The opposition says that was illegal and must be repeated.

The ruling party refuses that demand.

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