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Polish Official: Protests Led by 'Frustrated' Opposition

Media representatives wait to enter for a meeting with the Speaker of Senate during the fourth day of a protest in front of the Parliament building in Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 19, 2016.

Poland's foreign minister has criticized anti-government protests that have flared for days, saying Monday that they are the work of frustrated opposition politicians who cannot accept their loss of power and the government's popularity.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said he believed the protests against proposed restrictions of media coverage of parliament were merely "a pretext, an excuse to start protests on a massive scale against the situation in Poland.''

Opposition leaders insist that their protests are aimed at preserving democratic standards.

Poland has been in a state of political crisis for more than a year over sweeping changes introduced by the populist Law and Justice party. Many of the changes have been denounced by the European Union and many liberal Poles as violations of the rule of law, particularly steps that have paralyzed the judicial branch of government.

Still, Law and Justice remains relatively popular, with some 36 percent support in a recent poll, thanks to its higher welfare spending and a patriotic outlook that appeals to many, especially in smaller towns.

The crisis deepened Friday when opposition lawmakers occupied the speaker's podium in parliament, blocking work on legislation.

The immediate trigger for the sit-in was Speaker Marek Kuchcinski's decision to exclude an opposition lawmaker from the proceedings for going to the podium with a card bearing the words "free media.''

The deeper issue was a plan by the ruling Law and Justice party to restrict media access to lawmakers in parliament, denounced as unconstitutional by the opposition parties.

Protests then erupted in front of the parliament building and continued all weekend, spreading to other cities. More are planned for Monday.

Waszczykowski said he believed the protests were not spontaneous.

"We believe that that protests are a result of a certain frustration by the opposition, which, first of all, still can't accept the fact that they lost two elections last year, the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections,'' Waszczykowski said. "And it can't accept the fact that after 14 months of exercising power and undertaking difficult reforms, public opinion polls show a huge advantage of the ruling party.''

A recent survey by the CBOS polling institute found the largest opposition parties trailing in popularity — 16 percent for Civic Platform and 14 percent for Modern.

Radek Sikorski of Civic Platform, a former foreign minister and former parliament speaker, said Waszczykowski's accusations have no merit and that the only real goal of the opposition is to ensure that the government respects the constitutional order.

"The actual attitude [of the protesters] is that Law and Justice is perfectly entitled to rule the country, but that they are not entitled to change the constitution, the rules of the game for which they have no mandate and no majority,'' he told The Associated Press.