Poland: Parents, disabled children end protest

Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – A group of parents who occupied part of the Polish parliament with their disabled children abandoned their protest of state assistance payments Sunday after more than a month.

One of the mothers, Iwona Hartwich, said the demonstrators felt cut off from the world and worried about their children’s health from living in a corridor of the parliament building 40 days. The protesters also said that security guards had made life difficult, limiting them to one bathroom.

Cheering crowds greeted the parents as they pushed their grown children in wheelchairs away from the complex Sunday. One supporter, a woman who fought with the Polish resistance during World War II, bent down and kissed a person in a wheelchair.

While ending their sit-in, the protesters continued their campaign for more state aid, carrying a banner written in English that said: “Polish disabled children beg for a decent life.”

The families secured an increase in monthly disability payments during their protest, but it was not as much as they sought. The government spokeswoman said Sunday the government would like to do more, but the state budget could not accommodate bigger increases.

“We will never understand that people with disabilities are condemned to living in poverty,” said Hartwich, who vowed to continue the protest in other ways.

The security guards and occupiers scuffled recently when the protesters tried to hang banners from windows before international officials arrived for a NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

The plight of the vulnerable group has captured attention in Poland and elicited emotional expressions of solidarity. Poland’s right-wing government was accused of doing too little to help one of society’s most disadvantaged groups and betraying officials’ Catholic convictions.