Protests grow in Poland as political crisis deepens

Warsaw residents joined in a protest in front of Poland's parliament building Friday against a plan by the conservative ruling party to limit reporters' access to legislators.

Story highlights

  • Anti-government demonstrators block the parliament building
  • Opposition lawmakers try to halt proceedings
  • The interior minister calls it an attempt to seize power

Warsaw, Poland (CNN)A bitter political crisis in Poland worsened over the weekend with heated protests both in and outside the nation's parliament and a swirl of allegations of attempted coups and threats to democracy.

In Poland's lower house of parliament, opposition lawmakers formed a phalanx around the podium, effectively halting proceedings in the chamber in protest over an alleged government attack on press freedoms.
Outside, in freezing temperatures, angry anti-government demonstrators besieged the parliament, preventing politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party from leaving, before police dragged them off the roads.
"In my opinion, yesterday's events were an illegal attempt to seize power," Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Saturday morning, in reference to the protests in parliament.
Addressing the nation in televised statement Saturday evening, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo placed the blame at the door of her opponents.
"The move by the opposition to ignite extreme political emotions ... has nothing to do with the actual condition of the country," she said. "On the contrary, it is due to the helplessness, the frustration, of those who have lost the power and who have no idea how to convince Poles of their views."
A woman holds a sign reading "Free media, free parliament, free Poland" during Friday's protest outside the legislature.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president of the governing party who is regarded as the man with the real power in Polish politics, said Saturday, "We must not let others terrorize us."
He also spoke of "drawing our conclusions about those who have abused their office," which some have interpreted as veiled threat to the opposition members of parliament who took part in the protest.
The spark for the parliamentary unrest was a government plan to limit media access to the Polish Parliament. Since the country's return to democracy 27 years ago, journalists have had almost unrestricted access to the corridors of power, catching politicians unaware and harassing them with questions.
To many in Poland, this access was regarded as a fine example of Polish democracy -- but to the country's government, which has never had an easy relationship with the media, it was an unwanted privilege that the press, they claimed, had abused. To solve the problem, the government proposed slashing the number of journalists with parliamentary accreditation and creating a media center where politicians could meet the press on their own terms.
This triggered outrage in the Polish media and prompted accusations that the government was trying to silence the press.