Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Polish government accuses opponents of spying

Poland's conservative government accused senior opposition politicians on Wednesday of using secret services to spy on political opponents in the 1990s, saying the affair was "a crime against democracy".

The government made the accusation as Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party battled to restore its popularity, damaged by months of wrangling with both its leftist coalition partners and the opposition.

The opposition politicians denied the charge.

On Tuesday, Kaczynski -- seeking to deliver badly needed economic reforms -- had to accept the return to government of leftist Andrzej Lepper and his Self-Defence party just four weeks after calling him a "rabble-rouser" and dismissing him.

With even the rightist media criticising this revived marriage of convenience, Law and Justice counter-attacked and said it would expose what it called the evil role of intelligence services in the early days of Polish democracy.

"The secret services received an order to infiltrate rightist parties. We can talk about a crime against democracy," Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference.

He said the government had found evidence the State Protection Office's (UOP) counter-intelligence unit was using agents in the 1990s to infiltrate and monitor rightist opposition parties, including one led by Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech, Poland's president.

After years in the political wilderness, the Kaczynskis won power last year with pledges to weed out corruption in Poland and what they called "cliques" of former secret service agents, ex-communists and businessmen.

They accuse the main opposition party, the Civic Platform which groups many centre-right politicians who governed Poland in the 1990s, of protecting such networks.

Last week, the Kaczynskis said former President Lech Walesa, the iconic pro-democracy campaigner and their former leader in the anti-communist Solidarity movement, was involved with rogue elements in the secret services and ex-communists. Walesa denied the accusations.

Ziobro pointed an accusing finger at Konstanty Miodowicz, a former head of counter-intelligence, and former minister Jan Rokita, both prominent Civic Platform figures.

Miodowicz and Rokita dismissed the allegations, saying they were designed to distract Poles from the government's coalition troubles and its weakening position at home and abroad.

Miodowicz, echoing remarks made by Walesa, said intelligence services were monitoring some parties when Poland's democracy was fragile after the collapse of communism in 1989 but that he did not authorise any illegal activities.

"After all those years, for political reasons and in a shameful way, some political groups are trying to twist Polish history and blacken those who served in the intelligence service," he told reporters.

Opinion polls show support for the Civic Platform is way ahead of Law and Justice in the run-up to local elections in November, while two-thirds of Poles are critical of the government.