Poland's opposition has ended its month-long occupation of parliament after the ruling conservatives scrapped planned media restrictions. Lawmakers, however, have yet to resolve a dispute over the 2017 budget.
The centrist opposition party in Poland announced it was ending its blockade of the speaker's podium in parliament on Thursday after an unprecedented month-long occupation.
The Civic Platform (PO) party along with another centrist party Modern blocked the podium of parliament's plenary hall to protest the ruling populist Law and Justice party's (PiS) plans to restrict journalists' access to legislative proceedings.
"Since we've restored the media's presence in parliament...we're suspending our protest," said Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the PO opposition party.
The opposition, which began its occupation in mid-December, also accused conservative PiS lawmakers of illegally approving the 2017 budget in another part of the building after the opposition sit-in began.Modern ended its occupation of the podium on Wednesday.
Parliament speaker Marek Kuchcinski suspended proceedings until January 25, saying that "an in-depth analysis of what happened here these last few weeks is necessary."
On Thursday, Schetyna urged Polish President Andrzej Duda not to sign the budget. He also called for Kuchcinski's resignation for his role in the parliamentary dispute.
"This marks the end of one stage and the start of another," Schetyna told reporters.
Possible penalties for protesters
The developments appear largely to be a victory for the PiS, which succeeded in its refusal to repeat a vote on the budget that it said was passed legally.
The PiS also threatened deputies with fines or even jail time over the sit-in, in a move that could escalate the party's conflict with PO, which it ousted from power in 2015.
"Financial penalties in line with (parliamentary) rules are appropriate for those who occupy the plenary hall," Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told public radio.
"Preventing the parliament speaker from fulfilling his duties is a crime according to the penal code ... and carries a penalty of a 10-year jail term," he added.
The occupation further laid bare the growing political divisions in Poland and raised questions about the state of democracy and rule of law in the European Union state.
Poland's opposition parties said they are fighting against creeping authoritarianism enacted by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads PiS. Those concerns are shared by the country's western EU allies who have criticized the party's attempts to seek more state control over media and the judiciary.
Kaczynski said he was satisfied that the protest had concluded, but said he would like to enact new regulations that would prevent such standoffs in the future.
Although some of the ruling party's legislative moves have sparked mass anti-government protests, the PiS remains widely supported and still leads in recent opinion polls due in part to the party's generous social spending schemes.
rs/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)