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Poland's political double act ends

Twins' rule comes to an end in Poland

WARSAW (AFP) — Poland's conservative prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski handed in his resignation to his twin, President Lech Kaczynski, on Monday ending a surprise political double act on the European stage.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski was forced to quit after the twins' deeply Catholic and eurosceptic Law and Justice party lost an election on October 21.

Lech Kaczynski is expected to name a bitter political rival, Donald Tusk, whose liberal Civic Platform won the election, as the new prime minister later this week, a presidential aide said.

"We have ended our mission in government with our heads held high. The economy is in fine form, and the past two years have reinforced Poland's position in Europe," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in a resignation speech at the presidential palace.

The newly-elected parliament held its first sitting later Monday, putting the official seal on the end of his premiership.

Over the past two years, the Kaczynskis have earned a reputation for constant quarreling with other leaders of the 27-nation European Union as well as for playing hardball politics in Poland.

Tusk has vowed to make a priority of improving relations with the rest of Europe.

The 58-year-old twins, who won fame in the early 1960s as child film stars, began their political double act in July 2006, when Jaroslaw Kaczynski took the helm of a 10-month-old government, going back on an earlier pledge not to seek the premiership.

That promise was seen as a way to avoid jitters among voters wary of the prospects of being ruled by two men with such close personal ties, which could have dented Lech Kaczynski's chances in the presidential election.

But popular prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was eventually edged out by Jaroslaw Kaczynski as part of moves to shore up the party's fragile three-way coalition with a far-right and a populist party.

In September, after the government collapsed, the Kaczynskis gambled on the snap election as a way to cement their party's hold on power.

But voters swung solidly behind Civic Platform, which also promised to heal the rifts at home and spur Poland's already healthy economy to tempt back some of the million-plus Poles who have emigrated to other EU member states in recent years.

Among Tusk's vote-winning pledges was one to withdraw the country's 900-strong military contingent in Iraq.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski's iron-fisted rule extended to his own party, but he was hit Monday by the election-defeat fallout as three deputy leaders of Law and Justice quit, citing "differences of opinion".

Civic Platform and its planned coalition partner, the Polish Peasants' Party, together command 240 seats in the 460-member parliament, while Law and Justice has 166.

Lech Kaczynski is set to accept Tusk's choice of foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who has been publicly called a traitor by the conservatives.

Sikorski was defence minister in the Kaczynski government but was axed in February after he accused the twins of failing to rein in the head of Polish military intelligence, who was purportedly more interested in tracking down ex-communists than preparing for Poland's boosted peacekeeping deployment in Afghanistan.

Sikorski later jumped ship to the opposition.

Last week, Lech Kaczynski had warned that the choice would not "smooth the working relationship between the president and the government".

On Monday, however, presidential aide Michal Kaminski said that while Kaczynski would "convey his doubts" about Sikorski, he would "in no way prevent the nomination of whoever to whatever post."

Observers still expect relations to be strained between Tusk and the president, as Tusk tastes revenge for his defeat in the 2005 presidential election.

Kaczynski, whose term runs until 2010, has already warned he will veto Tusk's plans to introduce a single-rate "flat tax".

He has also slammed plans to ratify the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the conservatives argue goes against deeply Catholic Poland's point of view, notably Poles' antipathy to gay rights.