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Poland's interior minister fired

Since Hans is on his hols ...

Poland's interior minister fired

WARSAW, Poland - Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired the interior minister Wednesday, citing suspicions that he leaked information that hindered a corruption investigation — the latest episode in Poland's deepening political crisis.

Kaczynski said he was forced to fire the minister, Janusz Kaczmarek, because he was suspected of leaking classified information, obstructing an investigation of alleged bribery at the Agriculture Ministry.

Kaczmarek denied he violated his duties. "I am not the source of the leak," he was quoted as saying by Poland's PAP news agency.

President Lech Kaczynski, the prime minister's twin brother, swore in Wladyslaw Stasiak, the head of the National Security Council, as the new interior minister — the country's top security official.

Later Wednesday, the national police chief, Konrad Kornatowski, who answered to the dismissed interior minister, resigned.

The investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the Agriculture Ministry resulted in the firing last month of the former agriculture minister and deputy premier, Andrzej Lepper, who also heads one of the two junior parties in the conservative, nationalist coalition government.

That move has plunged the country into political uncertainty and raised the possibility of early elections.

Poland's Anti-Corruption Office allegedly caught Lepper in a sting operation investigating corruption at his ministry.

Authorities have been trying to track down the source of a leak that the agency's chief, Mariusz Kaminski, has said resulted in Lepper being warned at the last minute of the operation against him.

Kaczmarek's dismissal adds to the number of ministers dumped from top government posts that has piled up since Kaczynski's socially conservative Law and Justice party took office on Oct. 31, 2005.

Since then, Poland has had two prime ministers, five finance ministers, two foreign ministers, two treasury ministers, two defense ministers, and now three interior ministers.

Last year, Law and Justice moved to secure a working parliamentary majority by forming a coalition with two smaller parties — Lepper's rural-based Self-Defense and the nationalist League of Polish Families. The alliance has proved consistently fractious.

The prime minister and president have long said early elections could be a way out of the crisis, but so far have stopped short of moving to bring them about. The next regular elections are due in 2009.

On Wednesday, the prime minister reiterated his interest in holding early elections to end the turmoil, saying that "there's no point in drawing out this situation."

He said that he is "a proponent of a short timeline" for new elections.

"If there is no majority — and our coalition partners are the ones who broke off the coalition — then elections are unavoidable," he said.

The prime minister's Law and Justice party has said it will decide on the government's future, and on whether early elections are needed, after parliament reconvenes Aug. 22 following its summer break.

Later Wednesday, the national police chief, Konrad Kornatowski, who answered to the dismissed interior minister, resigned.