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Protesters stop lawmakers leaving Poland's parliament

Protesters have blocked all exits from the Polish parliament as a row escalated over plans to limit media access to lawmakers. The opposition delayed the passing of next year's budget with its own protest in the chamber.

Demonstrators turned out waving white-and-red national flags, denouncing PiS' attempts to introduce tough new rules on January 1 that would curb media access to parliament.

Hundreds of protesters chanted for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), to face the crowd.

The exits to the parliament building in Warsaw were protected by scores of policemen, many of whom carried rubber bullet guns.

Friday night's protest was organized by the KOD pro-democracy movement, which is critical of the PiS' policies on media, education and the Constitutional Court.

Police warn of clampdown

Hours after the protest began, police called on protesters to disperse, using loudspeakers to warn that force might otherwise be used, the Reuters news agency reported.

The government's new media restrictions will ban journalists from shooting still pictures or video in parliament, in particular when MPs break the rules, for example by voting for an absent colleague.

Anti-government protesters in Poland

Protesters are angry about plans to limit media access to MPs

Reporters will also be moved to a media centre located in another building, limiting their access to politicians.

Although banned from the main assembly room, at present journalists can mingle freely in the parliament building and grab politicians for interviews in the halls.

Media coverage halted

Several Warsaw-based journalists tweeted as more than 20 Polish media outlets refused to cover parliament on Friday, under the hashtag #DzieńBezPolitykow (Day without politicians). They included newspapers "Gazeta Wyborcza" and "Rzeczpospolita."

The PiS has defended the measure, saying it seeks to ensure a comfortable work environment for both lawmakers and journalists.

"It's definitely not meant to reduce transparency," said PiS lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk.

Outside parliament, the country's ex-foreign minister Rad Sikorski, addressed the crowd late Friday, denouncing the government under Kaczynski's rule.

Polish MPs protest

MPs disrupted a budget vote earlier on Friday

Earlier in the day, a large group of liberal opposition lawmakers protested the new media rules by standing on and around the speaker's podium in parliament for several hours.

Budget vote delayed

They blocked a vote on the 2017 state budget, leading Kaczynski to condemn their actions as "parliamentary hooliganism."

The vote was eventually taken by the ruling party's MPs in another hall, leaving the opposition to question its legality.

Analysts described Friday's events as the most serious crisis in Poland's parliament in many years.

PiS faces European Union scrutiny for several other policies deemed anti-democratic by opponents.

mm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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