* Ruling PiS party head says has showed restraint so far
* Kaczynski says opposition lawmakers' protest violates law
* Opposition vows to continue sit-in in parliament chamber
* Demands re-run of disputed budget vote
* EU's Timmermans says
(Adds European Commission)
By Pawel Sobczak and Marcin Goettig
WARSAW, Dec 21 The leader of Poland's ruling Law
and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on Wednesday told
opposition protesters, including lawmakers occupying
parliament's debating chamber, their actions were illegal and
could lead to a "great calamity".
But the opposition vowed to continue a six-day-old protest
bringing to a head tensions that have been building ever since
the socially conservative and nationalist-minded PiS came to
power with a large majority 14 months ago.
In particular, it is demanding a re-run of a debate and vote
on the 2017 budget that was diverted to a side-room of the lower
house, the Sejm, last week because of the sit-in, and held
without opposition lawmakers present.
The stand-off was sparked last week by government plans to
curb media access to the Sejm, the latest in moves by the PiS
government which critics say are part of a policy drift towards
authoritarianism. PiS denies there is any such trend.
"We are really acting in a restrained way," Kaczynski told a
news conference, flanked by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, the
speakers of both chambers of parliament and a deputy speaker,
against a backdrop of white-and-red Polish flags.
"Opposition lawmakers are bound by the law as all other
citizens are ... Blocking, taking away freedom from citizens,
not allowing normal movements are all criminal acts and these
acts are accepted (by the opposition)," Kaczynski said.
"This is really a road to a great calamity."
In Brussels, the vice-president of the European Commission,
Frans Timmermans, said the government must stop undermining
Poland's constitutional court and said the EU would use all its
powers to help protect Polish democracy.
Earlier this year, the Commission, the European Union's
executive arm, opened a formal inquiry into the rule of law in
Poland, a country previously seen as a model for the transition
from communism to democratic rule and a market economy.
Warsaw denies it has undermined the top court and says there
is no legal basis in EU treaties for the Commission's inquiry.
EU "WON'T DROP ISSUE"
Timmermans gave Warsaw two months to respond to its
recommendations, which would essentially mean rolling back
measures Brussels says are at odds with the EU's democratic
values and weaken judicial independence in Poland.
"We will not drop this issue," Timmermans told a news
conference, without elaborating.
If all other member states agreed, Poland could lose its
voting rights in the 28-nation EU, but Hungary has said it would
veto such a move.
Timmermans also said on Wednesday the position of Poland's
constitutional court's head must not be filled until questions
about the court's independence were resolved.
A few hours before his comment, Polish President Andrzej
Duda, a PiS ally, replaced the outgoing head of the court.
Fears of a drift towards authoritarianism under PiS have
prompted protests in cities over the last year. But although a
blockade of the parliament building by demonstrators last Friday
drew thousands, they had dwindled to dozens by late Wednesday.
The focus of protests has now switched to the budget debate,
which the opposition says was conducted irregularly and is
"If PiS is not open to concessions ... then I do not see
other options than to continue the protest until it is
effective," Ryszard Petru, leader of the liberal Nowoczesna
opposition party, told reporters.
The protests have mainly been peaceful, but police have now
cordoned parliament off with metal anti-riot barriers.
The PiS came to power promising a return to patriotic and
Roman Catholic values in public life and a tougher stance
towards the EU and Poland's historical adversary Russia.
The government has placed state media and prosecutors under
its direct control and changed legislation determining the
functioning of the constitutional court.
Poland's financial markets have shown little reaction to the
stand-off, with its currency, bonds and share indices all little
(Reporting by Pawel Sobczak, Marcin Goclowski, Agnieszka
Barteczko; Writing by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Kevin Liffey
and Gareth Jones)