* Polish opposition lawmakers still occupy main hall of
* Media protest against curbing their access to parliament
* Opposition says budget passed illegally
By Marcin Goclowski
WARSAW, Dec 19 Polish opposition lawmakers who
accuse the ruling PiS party of undermining democracy and the
constitution occupied the main hall of parliament for a fourth
day on Monday as efforts to defuse the country's biggest
political standoff in years continued.
President Andrzej Duda will meet later with the speaker of
parliament Marek Kuchcinski and Law and Justice (PiS) party
chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski to discuss the situation. Duda, a PiS
ally, held a meeting with opposition leaders on Sunday.
"Something wrong has happened to Polish democracy," the
leader of the biggest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO),
Grzegorz Schetyna told private radio station RMF FM, saying he
was ready to meet with Kaczynski, who has no formal role in
government but is seen as a strong influence on party policy.
Since coming to power in October 2015 the
nationalist-minded, eurosceptic PiS has come under fire at home
and abroad for what critics say are undemocratic moves designed
to tighten its grip on power.
These include changes to the constitutional court that led
the European Commission to say democracy and the rule of law
were under threat in Poland and which Poles continued to protest
against over the weekend. It has also moved to exert more
control over state prosecutors and approved legislation that
human rights groups said would curtail freedom of assembly.
The current political crisis began last week when the PiS
announced plans to curb media access to parliament and escalated
on Friday when a vote on the 2017 budget was moved outside
parliament's main chamber, with the opposition and media
That prompted opposition parties to accuse PiS of violating
the constitution and protests from the media. Demonstrators
surrounded parliament and ruling party politicians had to ask
the police for help to leave the building.
Internal affairs minister Mariusz Blaszczak was quoted as
saying by state-run news agency PAP on Monday that those
protests were intended "to block the state budget, to create a
Street demonstrations continued at a low level on Monday,
with more planned for later in the day.
PiS's plan would see all direct recording of parliamentary
sessions banned from Jan. 1 except by five selected television
stations, while the number of journalists allowed in the
parliament building would be limited to two per media outlet.
The PiS has already tightened control over public news media
and critics see the curbs as an extension of that.
A poll for daily Rzeczpospolita on Monday found 68 percent
of Poles think curbing media access would limit their ability to
know what parliament is doing.
Financial markets reacted calmly to the crisis on Monday.
The zloty currency was little changed at 4.41 per
euro, while the main stock market index WIG eased by 0.7
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Catherine Evans)