Poland Beset by Political Crisis as Protests Enter Third Day

WARSAW—Poland’s president met with opposition politicians Sunday in an effort to defuse a burgeoning political crisis that has sparked three days of antigovernment protests in the European Union’s largest former communist country.

Political tensions, which have simmered since the governing Law and Justice party came to power a year ago, boiled over on Friday after the government proposed restricting the media’s access to parliament. The move prompted opposition politicians to stage a sit-in protest on the floor of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, and demonstrators to take to the streets. Protests, as well as a rally in support of the government, were ongoing early Sunday evening.

Opposition groups are angry at the socially conservative government’s plan to remove television crews from the corridors and gallery surrounding the Sejm’s main hall. The issue of the media’s access to parliament is particularly sensitive in Poland because of the country’s communist past. Opposition groups see the plan as the government’s latest regressive step following moves to slow down the nation’s top court and take over state broadcasters.

To bring an end to the standoff, Polish President Andrzej Duda began meetings with key opposition politicians Sunday and is set to hold talks with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling party, on Monday. Mr. Duda on Saturday urged the governing party to rethink its plan on media access, which would come into force in January, although he was also critical of the opposition’s actions to disrupt parliament.

Mr. Duda, who holds a largely ceremonial role but who does have the power to veto laws, was nominated as his party’s presidential candidate by Mr. Kaczynski and as president he has remained mostly loyal to his political patron.

Mr. Kaczynski denounced the opposition’s protest an act of “parliamentary hooliganism.” The government says they want to want to regulate media access because they say the current setup is too liberal and allows TV stations to invade legislators’ privacy.

Poland’s parliament in downtown Warsaw remained sealed off by police from antigovernment demonstrations outside on Sunday evening, with journalists denied entry to the compound. Inside, opposition politicians took turns to occupying the floor, complaining about lighting and the temperature in the chamber.

Demonstrators in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on Sunday rally in support of the government. ENLARGE
Demonstrators in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on Sunday rally in support of the government. PHOTO: JACEK TURCZYK/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A bigger-than-usual police presence remained in the Polish capital as opposition groups staged several public rallies against the government.

The continuing political unrest Sunday followed a tense evening on Friday, with government politicians responding to the opposition’s sit-in protest by convening to vote on next year’s budget bill in a different room with no opposition present. Outside parliament, police officers forcefully removed some protester to make way for ruling party leaders to leave the compound.

It was the first time that the governing party and the opposition turned their backs on each other in parliament since elections in October last year.

Mr. Kaczynski’s rule has been marred by controversy, with the legislation to slow down its constitutional court, crippling its ability to cancel laws, drawing criticism from the EU and the U.S. The Law and Justice party’s agenda has included higher welfare spending and taxes as well as a bigger role for the government in the economy.

Donald Tusk, president of the EU’s top political council of national leaders, on Saturday said Poland needed to dial down its conflict, especially at a time when the bloc faced challenges to its liberal model of democracy from nationalists seeking to repatriate powers from Brussels. Mr. Tusk is a former Polish prime minister who remains at odds with the country’s current government.