The head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, left parliament in the early hours of Saturday after police forcefully removed protesters blocking their exit from, television footage showed.
Kaczyński left in a car that drove away in a convoy with the car of prime minister Beata Szydło and several other vehicles, footage from broadcaster TVN24 showed.
Opposition party MP Jerzy Meysztowicz told the television network that police used tear gas to disperse the protesters who tried to prevent the cars from leaving.
Protesters had blocked all exits from the parliament on Friday after the opposition said PiS politicians illegally passed the budget for next year by moving the vote outside of the main chamber of parliament.
The protest marked the biggest political standoff in years in European Union member Poland and the sharpest escalation of the conflict between the opposition and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party since it came to power in October 2015.
The police attempted in the early hours of Saturday to remove protesters by grabbing them and pulling them aside, but stopped as new protesters arrived at the scene. The police also called on protesters blocking the parliament to disperse, saying on loudspeakers that they might otherwise use force.
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“Everybody sees that PiS has crossed a certain line and nothing will be the same any more,” Tomasz Siemoniak, deputy leader of the biggest opposition party Civic Platform said.
The parliament was surrounded by hundreds of police, some of whom were carrying rubber bullet guns.
The protesters chanted that politicians would remain blocked and called on Kaczyński to come out and face them. It was unclear how many people were inside waiting for the exits to be unblocked. Some opposition politicians said they would spend the night in parliament.
Polish opposition parties accused PiS earlier on Friday of violating the constitution after speaker Marek Kuchciński moved a key vote on next year’s budget outside of the main chamber of parliament and blocked the media from recording the vote. It was the first time since Poland’s transition from communism in 1989 that a sitting of the lower chamber of parliament was conducted outside of the main chamber.
“The ‘sitting’ was illegal. Period. This is a constitutional crisis,” Civic Platform head Grzegorz Schetyna said on social media.
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Kuchciński decided to transfer the sitting and the budget vote outside the main chamber after opposition politicians occupied the parliamentary podium protesting against a plan to curb media access and against Kuchciński’s decision to exclude one lawmaker.
Ruling party politicians said the transfer of the vote was legal and the vote itself was valid. “What the opposition did was a scandal. And we were working,” said PiS’s Jarosław Zieliński, who took part in the budget vote.
Opposition parties Civic Platform and Nowoczesna together with the PSL party said in a statement that the speaker has violated the constitution. Opposition MPs also said they had problems in accessing the budget vote.
The parties demanded the parliament sitting be held once again next week. Since coming to power last year, the nationalist-minded, eurosceptic PiS has tightened its control over public news media and state prosecution and moved to weaken the country’s highest court.
PiS is the first party since Poland’s transition to democracy to hold an outright majority in parliament.
Polish police clear parliament blockade to allow MPs out – video