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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Pope joke backfires on Polish leadership
president with the pope
President Kwasniewski with the Pope in Poland last year
By the BBC's Marek Piotrowski

A Polish government minister has offered to resign after the release of video footage of him impersonating the Pope.

In a bid to discredit President Aleksander Kwasniewski two weeks ahead of elections, the opposition Solidarity party distributed the footage of National Security Office chief Marek Siwiec, which was filmed three years ago.

John Paul II kisses the ground in Lithuania in 1993
The Pope's most famous pose

Mr Siwiec, a close aide of President Kwasniewski, is seen making the sign of a cross and kissing the ground after getting out of a helicopter - a famous gesture repeated many times during pilgrimages by the Polish Pope.

The parody is performed in Mr Kwasniewski's presence and to his apparent amusement, and it may cause him considerable damage.

The Solidarity presidential candidate, Marian Krzaklewski, is trailing badly in the polls.

Infalible and untouchable

The Pope, who is credited in Poland with undermining communist rule 20 years ago and with inspiring the Solidarity free trade union, enjoys almost unqualified adulation in his home country.

Mock president
Solidarity has already portrayed the President as a Russian loving vodka drinker
Very few people, even on liberal left-wing flanks of the Polish political spectrum, would ever dare criticise him.

The film goes back to 1997, when Mr Siwiec was accompanying President Kwasniewski on a regional trip, but it has only surfaced now.

With over 60% support, President Kwasniewski, the left-wing politician, who beat the Solidarity legend, Lech Walesa, in the presidential contest five years ago, was poised for a comfortable victory.

Solidarity has very little chance of winning the presidential election but it may succeed in spoiling President Kwasniewski's prospects of an outright victory in the first round.

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See also:

11 Jun 99 | Europe
Pope prays for Holocaust victims
29 May 00 | Europe
Polish crisis as ministers resign
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