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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Walesa cleared of spy charges
Former Polish President Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa (left) did not spy for the communist government
A court in Poland has cleared former President Lech Walesa of charges that he worked for the communist state police.

In a statement, the court said it had decided that Mr Walesa had not lied in an earlier declaration denying links with the communist regime.

Poland introduced legislation two years ago banning anyone failing to declare links to the former communist government from political office for 10 years.

Mr Walesa's acquittal means he will now be free to stand in presidential elections in October.

"The court has concluded that Lech Walesa's declaration corresponds to the truth," said Chief Judge Pawel Rysinski.

Reputation at stake

The case centred on allegations that Mr Walesa spied on fellow dissidents during the 1970s, suggested by recently released Polish secret police documents

The case shocked many Poles who regard Mr Walesa a hero for his fight against the communist regime as leader of the independent trade union Solidarity.

Mr Walesa, a former shipyard electrician, led the pro-democracy Solidarity movement into office in 1990, ending the post-war communist regime.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski
President Kwasniewski: Cleared on Wednesday
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an ex-communist whom many predict will win re-election in the October poll, was co-accused with Mr Walesa, but acquitted on Thursday.

Although Mr Walesa's is now free to run for president, his chances of victory are believed to be slim.

A recent poll gave him a meagre 3% support, but as a result of Friday's ruling, his place in history as the father of modern Polish democracy appears to be safe.

Debate

A BBC correspondent says the case has sparked a debate over the nature of democracy in Poland and the role of Lech Walesa.

Lech Walesa
1980: Becomes leader of Solidarity
1981: Arrested in anti-democracy crackdown
1982: Released, Polish martial law eased
1983: Awarded Nobel peace prize
1984: Solidarity legalised
1990: Elected president of Poland
1995: Defeated in presidential election
2000: Cleared of charges of working with Communist state police
Awarded a Nobel laureate prize, Mr Walesa's success as Solidarity leader was not matched by his unspectacular stint as Polish president, which ended with his defeat at polls in 1995.

However, the affair has raised questions of how strong democracy actually is in Poland if candidates for political office can be excluded on the basis of what they did during the past.

Critics have also attacked the use of old police documents as evidence because the secret services often used to deliberately work to discredit opponents of the communist regime.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | Europe
Polish president cleared
02 Aug 00 | Europe
Walesa faces collaboration charge
18 Jun 00 | Europe
Walesa in new bid for presidency
28 May 00 | Europe
Coalition collapse in Poland
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