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Wednesday, November 26, 1997 Published at 11:03 GMT

image: [ BBC Despatches ]BBC Despatches

The Polish Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek, is beginning his first foreign tour since he was appointed Prime Minister last month. Mr Buzek, from the right-wing Solidarity Election Action, is going to Brussels to meet senior officials from NATO and the European Union, but first, he'll make a private visit to the Vatican. Our Warsaw correspondent SANCHIA BERG reports:

Visiting Pope John Paul II before any foreign politician has become something of a tradition for new Polish Prime Ministers from the right-wing Solidarity bloc, a way of thanking the Pontiff for his support for the free trade union in the 1980s.

Unlike his predecessors and unlike most Polish people, Jerzy Buzek is a Protestant, but he said to meet the Polish Pope was a great experience for all Poles. He hoped the visit would give him strength for the difficult tasks ahead.

Mr Buzek's government has promised to accelerate economic reforms. The Pope follows events in his home country closely. In recent months, he's warned of the social costs of reforms so far, and he's condemned the liberal abortion law passed by the last left-wing government.

Jerzy Buzek said he'd welcome the Pontiff's advice on both domestic and foreign policy, saying it is difficult to over-estimate the Pope's opinion on these matters. The Prime Minister's advisors emphasised the symbolism of this first foreign tour.

Fresh from his private audience in the Vatican, Jerzy Buzek will fly to Brussels. Membership of NATO and the European Union remain the pillars of Polish foreign policy. Mr Buzek's Foreign Minister said he would like to see Poland join both by the year 2000.

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