Top minister falls victim to power struggle in Poland

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Poland's political crisis deepened yesterday after President Lech Walesa denounced his government and the highly respected Foreign Minister, Andrzej Olechowski, offered to resign. Mr Walesa has demanded increased presidential powers accused the coalition government, made up mainly of reformed communists, of lacking vision.

'Poland is like a horse cart that is stuck in the mud. We are going forward more slowly and with greater difficulty.

Anger and tiredness are increasing. Let there be no chaos in the homeland, no return of the old system, no disorder and no fishing in dirty water,' Mr Walesa declared.

His critics, who include former colleagues in the Solidarity movement and left-wing ministers, redoubled efforts to crush his ambitions to strengthen the presidency. An opinion poll on Thursday showed only 31 per cent of Poles trusted Mr Walesa; 48 per cent distrusted him.

The battle between Mr Walesa and left-wing parties dominating the government took an unexpected turn when Mr Olechowski, stung by accusations that he was illegally earning two salaries, tendered his resignation. A non-party expert on finance and foreign affairs, he is viewed as Poland's most competent minister.

The Prime Minister, Waldemar Pawlak, could refuse to accept the resignation.

But that would undermine the position of the Justice Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who stunned Poles on Wednesday by saying 57 high-ranking politicians were breaking the law by combining public office with other paid jobs. Mr Olechowski, also chairman of Bank Handlowy SA, Poland's biggest bank, has denied that contravenes the law, suggesting he is a victim of power struggles.

Some of Poland's most eminent public figures said the political turmoil was damaging the country's image. 'It is not good for Poland. Foreign policy needs stability,' said Bronislaw Geremek, head of parliament's foreign affairs commission.

Mr Olechowski's supporters said the accusation of sleaze against him might have been prompted by his having been appointed to the foreign affairs post personally by Mr Walesa.