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Poland's president meets opposition leaders on third day of unrest

Poland's president Andrzej Duda has met separately with opposition party leaders to help solve a political crisis, as anti-government and pro-government rallies were held on a third day of unrest.

Political tension is rising between Poland's conservative government and the pro-European Union opposition over the ruling party's plan to restrict journalists' access to politicians in parliament.

The wider conflict started building last year after the Law and Justice party took power and began introducing fast-paced, sweeping changes in many areas including the legislative sector, the media and education.

The steps that the government has taken to gain influence over a top court have also put it at odds with EU leaders, who say Poland's democracy and rule of law are threatened.

On Sunday, a few thousand Warsaw residents rallied in front of the court, the Constitutional Tribunal, to thank its outgoing head Andrzej Rzeplinski for having opposed changes that, opponents say, are against the rule of law. The appointment of Mr Rzeplinski's successor is expected to open a new area of conflict in the coming days.

Carrying Polish and EU flags, the crowd then marched to the parliament building, where Poland's most serious political crisis in years began on Friday.

"We have lost confidence in the government and only the media can watch the government, the lawmakers and tell us what they are really doing," said Ewa Cisowska, 56, an economist.

Many protesters bitterly said the ruling team is not listening to the people and is not consulting on the steps it is taking. Protests were also held in Gdansk, in the north, and in Krakow, a city in the south, where the powerful ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was expected on a private visit.

Former president and democracy champion Lech Walesa said there is no easy way out of the crisis unless the ruling Law and Justice party resigns from power.

Meanwhile, a huge crowd of government supporters waving white and red national flags staged a noisy rally in front of the Presidential Palace to show their approval for the current policy and to encourage President Duda in his mediation.

Deputy PM Piotr Glinski told the rally the government is defending democracy and drew its authority from the electoral vote.

Mr Duda, aligned with the ruling party, expressed deep concern over the crisis and held talks with three opposition leaders on Sunday. He will meet Mr Kaczynski on Monday.

The first meeting was held with Ryszard Petru, leader of the Modern party, who said they discussed the media regulations and controversies around an irregular budget vote that was taken on Friday, when the conflict began. The opposition is demanding a repeat of the vote.

"We are still in a stalemate," Mr Petru said on TVN24.

European Council President Donald Tusk, Poland's former prime minister, appealed on Saturday for the ruling party to respect the people and the constitution. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has blamed the opposition and appealed for calm and dialogue.

AP

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