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Poland's ruling party says to lift media curbs in parliament

By Lidia Kelly and Jakub Iglewski

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling conservatives announced plans on Monday to reinstate full media access to parliament in a bid to defuse a political standoff, but the main opposition party said it was not yet ready to end its blockade of the legislature.

Moves by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party to curb the number of journalists in parliament and their right to record proceedings drove opposition lawmakers to start a sit-in in the main hall in mid-December.

A decision by PiS to move a vote on the 2017 budget to a side room in parliament further exacerbated tensions between the one-year-old eurosceptic government and opposition parties.

"We want to end the crisis in a conciliatory way ... We want both sides to take a step back," said the speaker of the Senate upper house, Stanislaw Karczewski.

He gave no details on when the restrictions would end, although some provisions appeared to be lifted on Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with opposition parties later on Monday, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said some lawmakers had agreed to leave the plenary hall, which they have occupied through the Christmas and New Year holidays.

"They will not block the speaker's podium anymore," Kaczynski told reporters, adding that more talks would be held on Tuesday.

The crisis could escalate further, however, with parliament due to hold its next session on Wednesday.

The main opposition group, the centrist Civic Platform, which lost power to PiS in the 2015 election, said it would continue its sit-in until parliament held a new vote on the 2017 budget, which it believes was approved illegally.

"The reasons for which we started the protests haven't disappeared," PO lawmaker Jan Grabiec told Reuters. "These are issues surrounding the passage of the budget."

DISAGREEMENT OVER BUDGET, EDUCATION

The PO has accused PiS of denying their lawmakers full access to parliamentary proceedings over the budget and has said it was not certain whether PiS had had a sufficient number of lawmakers present to validate the vote.

PiS says it acted within the law.

The political tensions and criticism from the European Union that PiS is undermining democratic checks and balances do not appear to have harmed public support for PiS, which supports more generous welfare provision for poorer Poles and greater prominence for traditional Catholic values in public life.

A poll by the IBRIS pollster conducted for the news portal Onet.pl on Monday showed support for PiS up almost five percentage points since December at 35 percent, while PO was down two points at 17 percent.

Its decision to reinstate media access is not the first instance of PiS rowing back on a policy - it also shelved proposals for a near-total ban on abortion last year due to public pressure.

However, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, signed into law on Monday an overhaul of Poland's education system that teachers' groups have criticised as costly and badly prepared. Some critics see the law as a throwback to communist times.

(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Anna Koper, Pawel Florkiewicz and Marcin Goclowski; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Gareth Jones)

 

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