Polish disabled protesters call off sit-in in parliament

Warsaw (AFP) –


Young disabled Poles have called off their sit-in protest in the Polish parliament after 40 days of sleeping on its floor in a bid to persuade the right-wing government to boost their meagre living allowance.

The move came as the spring session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly was being held in the Polish parliament over the weekend.

In connection with the event, Polish authorities blocked off the corridor where the protesters are camped out, cutting them off from the outside world and shower facilities giving them access to only one bathroom.

"After 40 days, we are suspending our protest in parliament," Iwona Hartwich, who has been protesting inside parliament alongside her 23-year-old son Jakub, told Poland's TVN24 news channel.

"We're worried about our children's well being. We've been cut off from facilities," she added.

Confined to a wheel-chair, Jakub is one of some 10 other disabled young protesters who are demanding a new monthly benefit of 120 euros ($141) in addition to the modest state payments they currently receive.

Lech Walesa, Poland's communist-era freedom icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner, rallied behind them on Monday calling for solidarity with their cause.

Senior members of Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government have also met with them, but have failed to agree on their demands.

Poland's Family and Labour Minister Elzbieta Rafalska said it has already increased an existing disability allowance by 39 euros, to 245 euros.

Rafalska also told the Gosc Niedzielny weekly that the government had tabled legislation boosting funding for costly physiotherapy, a move she said would allow disabled people to "save over 500 zloty (120 euros)" a month.

But the protesters said the measures fell short of their expectations, insisting on their demand for an extra 120 euros per month in cash.

The sit-in has drawn criticism from some PiS lawmakers who argue it has been orchestrated by the liberal opposition to tarnish the government's image.

Insisting they are apolitical, the protesters have flatly denied the allegation.

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS government has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad over a slew of reforms that critics say erode democratic standards and the rule of law.

The European Union launched legal action against the PiS government last December over reforms that it fears will limit judicial independence.

But the PiS administration has also gained popularity among some Polish voters for its generous social spending, including a new monthly child benefit and lowered pension age, among other measures.