Polish presidential rivals clash over Belarus rights

28th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Conservative Polish presidential candidate Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Sunday clashed with his liberal rival over whether to talk to Russia about human rights violations in Belarus.

"This is an issue which would be good to raise with Russia," Kaczynski said in a live televised election debate with Bronislaw Komorowski.

Kaczynski said that if he won office in a July 4 run-off poll, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were to visit Poland, he would certainly discuss the case of Belarus with the Kremlin leader.

Komorowski, who is leading Kaczynski in the opinion polls, hit back against the suggestion.

"This is an unbelievable political idea, discussing Belarus with Moscow," Komorowski said.

"I am totally opposed to that, because it's completely against Poland's national interest and it's also generally unacceptable in international relations," he said.

"It's as if the Belarussians were to discuss Polish issues with Russia or Berlin," he added.

"We should influence the policies of Europe, so that it speaks with a firmer voice in talks and contacts with Lukashenko," Komorowski said, referring to hardline Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

He said it was crucial to help steer Belarus to democracy "step by step", notably by boosting direct contact between ordinary Belarussians and Westerners.

The issue of human rights in neighbouring Belarus is high-profile in Poland, because ethnic Poles make up around 400,000 of the ex-Soviet republic's 10 million people.

In March, the European parliament criticised the rights situation in Belarus, noting in particular that a Polish minority organisation had suffered regular harassment since 2005.

Kaczynski and Komorowski are the two candidates in a run-off snap election forced by the death of the former's twin brother, president Lech Kaczynski, in an April 10 air crash in western Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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