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Walesa bows out amid storm over spy claims


Central Europe Correspondent

After five tempestuous years at the helm, President Lech Walesa of Poland bowed out of office last night, leaving a storm of controversy and political intrigue in his wake.

Mr Walesa's successor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former Communist, is to be sworn in this afternoon. The outgoing president will be boycotting the ceremony for what he terms "political and moral reasons".

But the handover of power will be overshadowed by Mr Walesa's allegations this week that the Prime Minister, Jozef Oleksy, another former Communist, spent years working for the KGB.

Military prosecutors investigating the allegations yesterday said the evidence was insufficient to justify an inquiry, but requested more information. The statement eased the pressure on Mr Oleksy to step down, but a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said he planned to take a holiday after Christmas until the situation had been clarified.

Whether he is prosecuted or not, Mr Oleksy's position as Prime Minster has been weakened by the allegations that for more than 10 years he provided classified information to Moscow. In a parliamentary debate on Thursday, he denied having been an agent. The former Central Committee member and regional party boss did admit he had enjoyed close ties with Soviet diplomats, one of whom he later learned was a KGB officer.

The storm over Mr Oleksy broke on Tuesday night when, with only three days of his tenure remaining, Mr Walesa summoned senior political and legal figures to the presidential palace to be presented with evidence of a "threat to the security of the state".

Conspicuously absent from the meeting were Mr Oleksy and Mr Kwasniewski, bothmembers of the former Communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Mr Walesa's political arch-foe.

The SLD, which today will take charge of the presidency in addition to the government, denounced the proceedings as a "dirty provocation", suggesting Mr Walesa was unable to accept his defeat by Mr Kwas- niewski in last month's presidential election. Mr Oleksy said Walesa supporters tried to blackmail him this month by getting him to step down in return for keeping quiet.

Although Poles have got used to controversy under Mr Walesa, many were shocked by this week's events. While most found it hard to believe Mr Oleksy knowingly worked for Moscow, they were also convinced not even Mr Walesa would go to such lengths to discredit his political opponents.

For some, the only explanation was that the whole thing had been a plot by Moscow to harm Poland's credibility in the eyes of the West, damaging its chances of joining Nato and the European Union.