Firebrand president pledges to cleanse Poland

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Poland swore in its new and controversial president, Lech Kaczynski, yesterday as the rest of Europe waited to see if his nationalistic election pledges, anti-Russian rhetoric and hostility to gay rights would translate into policy.

Taking office, Mr Kaczynski said: "The state is not working properly. It must be rebuilt and cleansed."

Famous since childhood, when he starred with his twin brother in a popular film, Mr Kaczynski later became a background figure in the Solidarnosc trade union movement which helped bring down Polish Communism.

But Mr Kaczynski's recent rise to prominence reflects Poland's shift to the right as the country, which joined the EU last year, backed the socially conservative Law and Justice party in presidential and parliamentary elections in October.

Aged 56, Mr Kaczynski used his post as mayor of Warsaw as a springboard for the presidential campaign in which he promised to fight corruption and stand up for Polish interests within the EU and against Russia and Germany.

In his first remarks after taking the oath of office, the new president said Poland would keep its strong relationship with the US and pledged to make troubled ties with Russia "an important issue" for his presidency. He added: "There exist no objective reasons for which relations with Russia should not be good."

Under the Polish constitution, the president has limited power, though he can propose and block legislation and is the commander in chief of the armed forces. But Mr Kaczynski is a special case because his twin brother, Jaroslaw, is a leading light in the parliamentary Law and Justice party which has formed a minority government. Although Jaroslaw passed up the possibility of becoming prime minister in favour of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, many observers believe that the twin brothers will be the dominant force in Polish politics and have expressed concern about one family having too much power.

Others fear that, because of the government's lack of a parliamentary majority, it will have to rely on the support of far-right parties in parliament.

As Mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski opposed abortion, sought to ban a gay rights protest and has argued that it would be "very dangerous for our civilisation to put homosexual rights on an equal footing".

Britain, which had strong ties with the previous government, has seen signs of a new Franco-Polish diplomatic alliance in the wake of EU budget negotiations during which the UK proposed cuts in subsidies to nations such as Poland.

Yesterday's swearing-in ceremony centred on a mass in Warsaw's St John's Cathedral, underlining Mr Kaczynski's Roman Catholic values.His speech to parliament focused mainly on domestic issues, including the need to purge the country of corruption and the influence of former Communist apparatchiks. He said: "The state is not performing its duties properly. For that reason, it must be cleansed and rebuilt."