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Polish ruling party prevails in standoff in parliament

Associated Press logo Associated Press 11/01/2017 By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
Opposition lawmakers block the podium, prior to the opening of the parliament session, in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The parliament's session hall is occupied by a group of opposition lawmakers as they continue a protest since Dec.16, 2016 against the policies of the ruling Law and Justice party, causing delay to the first session of 2017. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) © The Associated Press Opposition lawmakers block the podium, prior to the opening of the parliament session, in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The parliament's session hall is occupied by a group of opposition lawmakers as they continue a protest since Dec.16, 2016 against the policies of the ruling Law and Justice party, causing delay to the first session of 2017. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

WARSAW, Poland — Poland's conservative ruling party appeared to prevail Wednesday in an ongoing standoff in parliament as the Senate approved a budget that centrist opponents said was passed illegally.

In an unprecedented political crisis, opposition lawmakers have occupied the plenary hall in the Sejm, the lower house of Poland's parliament, since mid-December.

The main point of contention was a budget vote which two centrist opposition parties said was held illegally. They had demanded a repeat vote.

But the ruling Law and Justice party held firm in insisting the Dec. 16 vote was held properly and refused to have the budget reconsidered in the lower chamber.

The Senate — which is dominated by the ruling party — passed the budget on Wednesday without making any changes.

Under parliamentary procedures, the Senate vote precludes another vote in the Sejm.

Opposition lawmakers denounced the Senate's move as a crowd of anti-government protesters gathered outside parliament and expressed anger at what they see as anti-democratic practices taking hold in Poland.

"We have a budget that is illegal," said Katarzyna Lubnauer, a lawmaker with Modern, one of the two centrist opposition parties.

But ruling party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the protesting lawmakers were the ones violating democratic norms with their blockade. He declared the budget a closed matter.

Kaczynski suggested that the lawmakers who remained in the Sejm could be forcibly removed. But Speaker Marek Kuchcinski postponed a possible confrontation by briefly opening the first session of the year and then calling a recess until Thursday morning.

The centrist lawmakers planned to consider a new form of protest before parliament reconvenes Thursday.

Kaczynski is working to reinforce the country's nationalist and Catholic traditions. His opponents say his populist methods are increasingly authoritarian and they have argued the blockade of Parliament was necessary to defend democratic standards.

The centrist Modern and Civic Platform parties began their occupation around the speaker's podium in the main hall to protest government attempts to limit media access to parliament.

Attention shifted to the budget after ruling party lawmakers approved it in a side room to get around the blockade.

The opposition argues it was not clear if a quorum of lawmakers was present during the initial budget vote. Votes were cast with a show of hands instead of through the electronic machines normally used.

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