Entries in Poland (13)


Does Walesa Embrace of Romney Mean Poland Dislikes Obama?

JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/GettyImages(GDANSK, Poland) -- When President Obama visited Poland last year, Prime Minister Donald Tusk told his American guest, “We feel that you are one of us.”

He didn’t go as far Monday, at least not publicly, following a meeting with Mitt Romney. But former Polish president Lech Walesa, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, did give his seal of approval to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” Walesa said through a translator. “Gov. Romney, get your success. Be successful!”

The endorsement of a U.S. presidential challenger, unusual in its boldness, was particularly eyebrow-raising in light of Walesa’s refusal to meet with Obama on his visit to Poland one year ago.

Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity movement that helped bring down communism in Poland, cited scheduling conflicts at the time for why the two could not meet, though Walesa’s absence was widely interpreted in local news reports as a snub.

So what impact will Walesa’s embrace of Romney have on the 2012 presidential race?  Little, experts say, although it does symbolize a real sense of discontentment among many Poles and Polish-Americans over Obama’s handling of the bilateral alliance during his term.

“This is a powerful statement on Polish relations with the U.S. right now,” Alex Storozynski, president of the Kosciuszko Foundation, a nonpartisan Polish educational and cultural group, said of the Walesa endorsement.  “Poles in Poland are frustrated with the Obama administration.”

Top among the frustrations is an unfulfilled Obama promise from 2008 to add Poland to a list of visa waiver countries, a move that would allow freer flow of travel to and from the U.S. for families, business people and tourists.

Some Poles are also miffed by Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, a longtime Polish nemesis, and his backing away from parts of a George W. Bush-era missile defense plan.

“They had courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile systems, only to be told, at the last hour, that the agreement was off. As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government,” Romney said of the Poles at a VFW convention in Reno last week.

President Obama also recently angered some Poles and Polish-Americans when he referred to “a Polish death camp” -- as opposed to a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland -- during remarks at the White House in May. The gaffe drew swift and stern public rebukes from Polish leaders that later led to a letter of regret from Obama to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

“If he was ‘one of us’ he’d know that Germans did build those camps,” Storozynski said.

Still, there is ample evidence U.S.-Polish ties, particularly military, remain strong and that Walesa’s endorsement carries little sway.

Obama approved steps to assign a U.S. Air Force contingent to Poland beginning in 2013 as part of the NATO alliance. And both countries’ military leaders say they have close working relationships. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hosted the Polish Defense Minister last week in Washington.

“Walesa is probably Poland’s best international statesman, not because he’s right, not because he knows what he’s talking about, but because of an aura of credibility from his past and the Nobel Prize. In many ways, he has more stature overseas than at home,” said John Micgiel, director of the East Central European Center at Columbia University.

“But what Mr. Walesa says doesn’t carry a lot of weight with Poles or Polish-Americans.  He thinks differently than most people,” he said.

Solidarity, the trade union group Walesa once led, disassociated itself from his comments Monday, saying in a statement that “Mitt Romney supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.”

“Solidarity was not involved in organizing Romney’s meeting with Walesa and did not invite him to visit Poland,” the group said.

What does all of this mean for U.S. voters of Polish descent?

“They don’t see Obama as their candidate, or Mitt Romney as their candidate,” Micgiel said. “They are truly swing votes.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


CIA Wanted 'Torture' Cage for Secret Prison: Official

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A Polish official says that prosecutors have a construction order that proves the CIA wanted a cage for terror suspects built at a secret 'black site' prison inside Poland.

Senator Jozef Pinior claims Krakow prosecutors have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty, a Polish army based used as a CIA prison for al Qaeda terror suspects in 2002 and 2003.

"In a state with rights," Pinior told the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, "people in prison are not kept in cages." He said a cage was "non-standard equipment" for a prison, but standard "if torture was used there."

Asked if he was sure the cage was for humans, he said, "What was it for? Exotic birds?" He said he has not seen the construction order, but that the Krakow prosecutor's office, which is investigating the prison, has a copy of it.

This week Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the prosecutor's office also allegedly has a signed order from Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the then-head of Polish intelligence, authorizing the creation of the black site. A source told the paper that the agreement has a space intended for an American signature, but that the Americans did not sign the document "because they do not want to sign documents inconsistent with their own Constitution and international law."

Siemiatkowski did not confirm or deny the existence of the agreement, but said he could not discuss anything he might have signed because it would be classified.

Gazeta Wyborcza reported in March that Siemiatkowski had been charged with permitting the corporal punishment of prisoners of war. Siematkowski has acknowledged publicly that he is under investigation.

Alexander Kwasniewski and Leszek Miller, who were president and prime minister at the time it was allegedly used as a CIA prison, have denied the existence of the Stare Kiekuty black site.  Sen. Pinior said he presented his evidence "with regret, because I always valued [Kwasniewski's] presidency."

Several terror suspects, including Abu Zubaydah, have said they were tortured at the Polish site prior to their relocation to Guantanamo. One suspect claims a gun and a power drill were pointed at his head during his interrogation.

After Poland launched its official investigation of the Stare Kiekuty site, President Bronislaw Komorowski said the probe was needed because "the reputation of Poland is at stake."

ABC News previously revealed the location of another CIA prison at a former riding academy outside Vilnius, Lithuania. In 2006, President Bush acknowledged that the U.S. had used "black site" prisons in foreign countries, and said many of the suspects who had been detained there were then moved to Guantanamo Bay. While denying that the U.S. employed torture, he said that the U.S. had used an "alternative set of procedures" to interrogate prisoners.

The CIA declined to comment to ABC News on the reported black site in Poland or on Senator Pinior's allegations about a cage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian and Polish Fans Break into Violence Before Euro Match

CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/GettyImages(WARSAW, Poland) -- A violent brawl broke out Tuesday between Russian and Polish soccer fans shortly before the two teams met at the Euro 2012 match in Warsaw.  

Polish police used rubber bullets and water cannons in an attempt to control the violence, which led to more than 100 arrests and at least 11 people requiring medical attention, according to The Guardian.

What seemed to have been the most violent confrontation Tuesday was triggered by a planned march by Russian fans to the National Stadium to celebrate the country's declaration of state sovereignty. The fans had obtained permission and police protection prior to the march -- an indication that clashes may have been expected.

Many Poles still place blame with the Russians for what happened to them after World War II, when the Soviet Union occupied the country.

Police asked that Russian fans remain seated for 20 minutes after the game's final whistle, fearing that more violence would ensue, The Guardian reported.  Still some fighting continued as fans departed the stadium.

The match between Russia and Poland ended in a draw, with a final score of 1-1.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Writes Poland's President, Apologizes for 'Polish Death Camp' Flap

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama wrote a letter to the president of Poland in which he expressed regret for his words during the Medal of Freedom ceremony in which he referred to World War II-era “Polish death camp” instead of a Nazi death camp in Germany-occupied Poland.

“In referring to ‘a Polish death camp’ rather than ‘a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,’ I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world,” President Obama wrote. “I regret the error and agree that this moment is an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth.”

President Obama made the remarks while posthumously awarding Polish freedom-fighter Jan Karski with the Medal of Freedom.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in response said, “the events of the past few days and the US President’s reply may, in my opinion, signify a very important moment in the struggle for historical truth. With this letter Poland has gained an important ally in its battle against the misleading, wrongful and painful term ‘Polish death camps.’ I am convinced that Polish state authorities and institutions, with special emphasis on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will be able to take adequate stock of the US President’s declaration in their further (…) struggle for the eradication of confusing, painful and untrue qualifications found in public language outside Poland.”

President Komorowski received permission from the White House to post the entire letter on his website.


President Obama also noted,“As we all know, the Polish people suffered terribly under the brutal Nazi occupation during World War II. In pursuit of their goals of destroying the Polish nation and Polish culture and exterminating European Jewry, the Nazis killed some six million Polish citizens, including three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The bravery of Poles in the underground resistance is one of history’s great stories of heroism and courage. Moreover, there simply were no ‘Polish death camps.’ The killing centers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka, and elsewhere in occupied Poland were built and operated by the Nazi regime. In contrast, many Poles risked their lives – and gave their lives – to save Jews from the Holocaust.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mixing Sport and Politics? Countries Threaten to Boycott Euro Cup

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GettyImages(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- Outrage over Ukraine’s treatment of an opposition leader has sparked calls in Europe to do the unthinkable: boycott Europe’s biggest soccer tournament. What was supposed to be Ukraine’s coming-out party may now turn into its biggest embarrassment.
European leaders met in Brussels Monday to debate whether to shun this year’s Euro Cup, which Ukraine and Poland will jointly host in less than a month, over Kiev’s mistreatment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko, the photogenic blonde opposition leader who helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution, was convicted last year of abusing her office and sentenced to seven years in jail. Many in the West decried the trial as politically motivated. Authorities responded by doubling down with more charges. Though Tymoshenko is popular in the West and has a significant following in Ukraine, it has been said that the jailed political leader is no angel and has been accused of questionable practices and dealings before.
Tymoshenko went on a long hunger strike after she said prison guards beat her in jail last month. Her daughter Eugenia said she was very ill and had been denied proper medical care.
As a result, several countries have already threatened to pull out. Some have said they just won’t send any political leaders to attend the matches. Others are suggesting they not send their national teams. Even the opposition in co-host Poland have suggested Ukraine isn’t fit to host the games. From jail, Tymoshenko has asked that political leaders not attend, but she very much would like the teams to come and the games go on as planned.
The growing diplomatic row has already stung. Ukraine had to cancel plans for a regional summit last this week after a number of leaders said they wouldn’t attend in protest.
Organizers had hoped these games would showcase progress in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War, but they may instead be shedding light on the fact that old school strongman politics are alive and well in this part of the world. Some have worried, however, that such a move will only drive Ukraine closer to Moscow.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Polish Village Enacts Unique Punishment on Speedy Driver

Antenna Audio, Inc. /Getty Images(LONDON) -- Villagers in Poland, annoyed by the reckless antics of a speedy driver, concocted their own unique style of revenge to teach the 24-year-old driver a lesson.

Forgoing the typical method of leaving a note or, perhaps, speaking to the driver directly, residents of Lubczyna, Poland, instead placed the driver's car atop a tree.

U.K. newspaper The Mirror reports that when the driver, Zbigniew Filo, walked out the door to take his white Ford Escort for a drive, he found it instead hoisted to the top of a willow tree.

"We received a call from a man saying his car was stuck in a tree, and that his neighbors had put it there," a police spokesman told the Mirror.

Filo had reportedly been driving his Escort recklessly throughout the village for months, and without a driver's license, so villagers decided to take action.

"Perhaps he'll think twice about his hair-raising driving and about getting a license or who knows where his next car might end up?" one neighbor told the paper.

The villagers are staying mum about who among them actually carried out the prank other than saying that it took a mobile crane to get the car to the top of the tree.

Filo, whose car was returned to him after he promised to drive more carefully, admitted the lesson was learned.

"I get the message, but I think it was a bit harsh," he said, according to the Mirror.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Poland Train Crash Kills 16, Injures 58

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WARSAW) -- Sixteen people died and 58 were injured on Saturday night in Poland’s worst rail crash in decades.

The Telegraph reports that a Krakow-bound express train from Warsaw collided with another train near Szczekociny.

“This is our most tragic train disaster in many, many years,” Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said.

An unnamed American woman was among the victims killed.

Polish prosecutors opened an investigation to determine how one of the trains ended up on the wrong tracks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cold Weather Continues to Plague Europe; Over 260 Dead

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- While the U.S. basks in relative warm weather this winter, Europe is having one hellacious season.

Reports say a cold snap has left over 260 people dead across the continent, including 122 deaths in Ukraine alone with some temperatures plummeting to below minus 36.5 Fahrenheit. Dozens of people have also died in Poland. The chilling temperatures were also blamed for fatalities in Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia.

Snow, ice and frigid temperatures are wreaking havoc with everyday life in Europe and traveling has turned difficult as airports have shut down and trains are severely delayed.

The unusual cold snap has stretched as far south as Rome, which endured its heaviest snowfall in 27 years over the weekend, grinding traffic in Italy's biggest city to a halt.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Polish Prosecutor Cuts Short News Conference, Shoots Self

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(WARSAW, Poland) -- A Polish military prosecutor shot himself in the head Monday while news cameras were rolling.   Col. Mikolaj Przybyl made a statement defending a military investigation into the plane crash that killed the Polish president in 2010, then calmly told reporters, “I want to ask you to leave for a minute.  I need a break.”

The journalists left the room and closed the door, but the cameras were still taping, and recorded the sound of a gun being cocked, then fired.  Przybyl was just out of frame when he apparently pulled the trigger.  His feet can be seen on the floor after the gunshot.

Journalists heard the gunshot and rushed back into the prosecutor’s office where they found him lying face down on the floor, bleeding.  One journalist is heard saying, “Don’t record it, but help.”  Another responds, “How do you want us to help?”

Paramedics took Przybyl to a hospital in western Poland where he’s said to be in stable condition and conscious. Hospital director Leslaw Lenartiowicz said Pryzybyl has injuries to his face, but they are not life threatening.

Przybyl is the head of a military prosecutors department investigating organized crime in the army.  Media reports have accused his department of breaking the law while investigating the 2010 crash of the presidential plane in Russia by spying on reporters to find the source of media leaks.

Przybyl called the news conference Monday to refute the claims.   Before shooting himself, he told reporters, “I have never discredited the Republic of Poland and with all firmness I will defend the honor of a Polish army officer and prosecutor.”

The shooting shocked Poland’s politicians and lawmakers.  Some are calling for a special investigation, saying Przybyl’s statement and attempted suicide suggest massive corruption in the Polish Army.

Poland Attorney General Andrezej Seremet promised a thorough investigation, saying, “I am absolutely amazed by what has happened…The police are at the scene and all the necessary procedures are being carried out.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Perfect' Emergency Landing Sends Sparks Flying, Passengers Scrambling

WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WARSAW, Poland) -- The final moments of Flight 16 from Newark, N.J, to Warsaw, Poland, with 210 passengers and a crew of 11, were alarming. The pilots of the Polish LOT airlines Boeing 767 could not get the landing gear to come down. After circling to dump fuel, they were forced to make an emergency landing, skidding along the runway on the plane’s belly, sparks flying.

Emergency vehicles were standing by, and firefighters quickly hosed down the plane as passengers scrambled to evacuate down the slides. Everyone got out safely. A spokesperson for LOT airlines says it had a support team and psychologists on hand to meet the passengers after they were bused to the terminal.

The airline says pilots noted a failure in the hydraulic system used to lower the gear, and that’s when they called for an emergency landing. BBC reporter Richard W. Gordon, tweeted, “The aircraft’s crew reported an unsafe gear indication at 3,000 feet and attempted to troubleshoot for 80 minutes.”

Fighter jets were sent up to take a look at the jet as it circled over the airport. Those military pilots confirmed the gear was not down.

LOT praised its pilots for carrying out a “perfect emergency landing.”

A passenger waiting at the airport, John Britton, saw the landing and tweeted, “Terrifying, plane on fire at Warsaw airport as I’m about to fly. Crash landing maybe.”

LOT airlines is part of the Star Alliance group, which means it is an international partner for United and Continental flights. Both carriers referred any questions to the Polish airline.

The airline says the passengers on Flight 16 are being released after a medical examination and a brief interview by police.

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Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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