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The BBC's Katya Adler
"This is a sad end to a remarkable career"
 real 56k

Sunday, 15 October, 2000, 21:15 GMT
Walesa leaves Polish politics
Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa: Hero of Solidarity, now a marginal figure
The founder of Poland's Solidarity trade union, Lech Walesa, says he is withdrawing from politics.

Mr Walesa spearheaded the 1980 Gdansk strikes which led to the founding of the first independent union in the Soviet bloc. He became the country's first freely elected post-communist president in 1990.

Lech Walesa circa 1980
A younger Walesa became a national hero in 1980
But Mr Walesa gathered less than 1% of the vote in last Sunday's presidential election, won by the incumbent Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist who had already defeated Mr Walesa in 1995.

"The election results have indicated that I should step to the side of the political scene and withdraw from current activities," Mr Walesa said in a statement.

Political isolation

Correspondents say Mr Walesa's abrasive style led to his defeat in the 1995 presidential election and later his increasing isolation in Polish politics.

The 57-year-old former shipyard electrician said he was giving his tiny Christian Democracy Party free rein to help build a "strong middle-of-the-road formation" capable of rivalling the left.

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 elections
2000: Cleared of charges of working with Communist state police; second electoral defeat

"My party keeps looking to me to do something... But my presence paralyses and dominates things, so I must find another place for myself," he said.

Correspondents say the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate is now one of Poland's least popular politicians.

Such a slump in his fortunes would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

Mr Walesa was imprisoned when the communist authorities imposed martial law in 1981, and came to symbolise the political struggle which led to the defeat of communism.

But in recent times Mr Walesa has been accused of having worked for the communist police, spying on fellow dissidents in the 1970s.

He was cleared of the charges in August, but many Poles were shocked by the allegations.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Europe
Poles mark 20 years of Solidarity
11 Aug 00 | Europe
Walesa cleared of spy charges
18 Jun 00 | Europe
Walesa in new bid for presidency
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