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By Gabriela Baczynska and Gareth Jones
WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk ditched three ministers and sacked the head of an anti-graft body on Wednesday in an effort to draw a line under a lobbying scandal that has harmed his centre-right government's image.
Financial markets took the news calmly. Crucially for investors, the changes did not involve the finance minister.
Tusk wants to reassure voters in the European Union's largest ex-communist nation that he will not brook any hint of corruption in his two-year-old government as it fights a sharp economic slowdown and prepares for a presidential election next year in which the premier himself is likely to run.
"Trust is key... In order for the government to continue its work in an atmosphere of trust, my associates and I want to do everything to convince Poles and our political adversaries that we intend to resolve this case in an unbiased manner," Tusk told a news conference.
Tusk said the interior, justice and deputy economy ministers had resigned over the affair, which involves claims that key PO officials had contacts with businessmen seeking to water down plans to hike taxes on gambling. The officials deny wrongdoing.
Political analysts said Tusk's brisk handling of the crisis would probably help to minimise any negative political fallout.
"Tusk is now definitely on the attack and I think he's got a chance of success in turning the tables on the opposition," said Adam Jasser, progammes director at the DemosEuropa think-tank.
The zloty eased versus the euro after Tusk's announcements but dealers said the weakness was not caused by politics.
Outgoing Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who was also deputy prime minister, will now lead Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) in parliament, a post left vacant after another Tusk ally, Zbigniew Chlebowski, quit last week over the lobbying scandal.
Three other top aides will leave Tusk's office to reinforce Schetyna's work in the parliament.
Tusk said he would name new ministers to his cabinet next week. They will include a replacement for the sports minister, who has also quit over what local media dubbed "Blackjack-gate."
ANTI-GRAFT BODY
Tusk singled out the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and its head, Mariusz Kaminski, for sharp criticism, saying they were using their powers for political ends. He said he expected the procedure to oust Kaminski would be completed by Friday.
The CBA was set up in 2006 by Tusk's predecessor and arch-rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who now heads the main opposition party Law and Justice (PiS). Kaczynski is also the twin brother of President Lech Kaczynski.
"We are going to war for truth with the PiS in parliament now," Tusk said.
Critics say the CBA is politically motivated and uses legally questionable methods such as "sting" operations.
Prosecutors filed charges on Tuesday against Kaminski accusing him of exceeding his authority in a separate case.
Tusk is keen to stamp out any whiff of corruption in his government ahead of a presidential election due in the autumn of 2010 when he is expected to challenge incumbent Lech Kaczynski.
An opinion poll published in Wednesday's Gazeta Wyborcza showed Tusk would still win more than twice as many votes as Kaczynski in the presidential election.
The survey, conducted by PBS DGA on October 2-4, after the scandal broke, also showed support for PO falling by four percentage points to 48 percent. Its nearest rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's right-wing, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS), gained four percentage points to 28 percent.
(Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Janet McBride)

Reuters