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Polish parliament briefly restarts, but crisis rumbles on

Poland's parliament has very briefly restarted proceedings after its winter recess. But, like the national political crisis, the opposition's blockade of the lower house's main chamber since mid-December goes on.

Poland's parliament had been due on Wednesday to convene at noon local time (1100 UTC), but proceedings were delayed after opposition and ruling party officials argued over an ongoing standoff over a December vote on the 2017 budget.

When it did finally convene at 6 p.m., parliamentary speaker Marek Kuchcinski immediately called for the session to be closed and restarted at 10 a.m. on Thursday. 

Opposition MPs have staged a sit-in in parliament since December, over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's plans to limit media access to parliament.

Despite the boycott, parliament had enough members to meet the constitutional quorum and approved a number of bills, including the draft budget for 2017.

Call for re-run

The centrist Civic Platform (PO) believes the 2017 budget was passed illegally and should be re-run. It demands a second meeting be held and has called for the resignation of Kuchcinski.

The opposition has been backed by street demonstrators from the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) and other citizen groups. The KOD has been undermined in recent weeks by news stories questioning the financial probity of key leaders. 

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PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has attacked the sit-in as "an attempted coup."

EU admonition and possible compromise

The EU in December gave the government another two months to reverse changes it made to Poland's constitutional court or face sanctions, warning they posed a "substantial" challenge to the rule of law.

PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna on Wednesday called for parliament to be adjourned until January 18 in a bid to buy time to find a way out of the stalemate.

PiS parliamentary caucus chief Ryszard Terlecki agreed, but on the condition that opposition lawmakers would first end the sit-in.

"In reality, this isn't any kind of new proposal," Schetyna said. "They want us to quit the parliamentary chamber but they're not offering us anything in return."

PiS is ready to approve the opposition's 2017 draft budget amendments Kaczynski said on Tuesday. 

"We are offering an unusual thing - we suggest that our majority in the Senate approve part of the opposition's amendments, so that the bill will then return to the lower house and be reviewed there. We can consider approving some of those amendments if they do not destroy the draft budget completely," Kaczynski told Telewizja Polska public TV.

jbh/ksb (Reuters, AFP)

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