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Polish democracy champion Lech Walesa turns 80 and comments on his country's upcoming election


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Former Polish President Lech Walesa said as turned 80 on Friday that he is supporting opposition leader Donald Tusk's effort to oust Poland's conservative government in the country's parliamentary election next month.

Walesa, whose Solidarity movement toppled communist rule in Poland in 1989, said the situation under the nationalist government of the Law and Justice party is “worse than bad, and the only way of rescue is in removing them from power.”

The government, which came to power in 2015. has clashed with the European Union over upholding the rule of law and democratic values, and its policies on social issues have exposed sharp divisions domestically.

Walesa personally knows both Tusk, 66, a former Polish prime minister who leads the opposition Civic Coalition, and Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 74, served as head of Walesa's presidential office in 1990-91 and was fired from the job. Walesa served as Poland's president during 1990-95.

Walesa said in an interview published Friday on the news portal Onet.pl that he supports Tusk, who also served as European Council president, because he considers him a “good politician” who understands the new generation of voters in Poland.

Walesa said he thinks Kaczynski's intentions are good but his methods are destructive and “he remains alone with his dictatorship.” But that inspires “wise people” in the opposition to seek better ways, he said on Onet.pl.

Walesa, a former electrician who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 “for non-violent struggle for free trade unions and human rights in Poland,” said he feels adequate for his age but ready to die. He sounded bitter when he spoke about the cost of his unique role in Poland's politics.

“I have paid an enormous price for gaining experience,” Walesa said in the interview. “I have lost my family, a normal life, because I was playing at politics, I was fighting" for political change in Poland.

His political work took him away from his wife, Danuta, and eight children in Gdansk, with whom he lost close touch during an important time of their lives. For years now, he has been back home.

Still an alert observer of global politics, Walesa said the old left-right divide in politics is no longer adequate and needs to be redefined. The same is true for Christian parties, many of which have “not a single believer among their members,” he asserted.

“The only thing that has been invented previously and still fits our times are the traffic rules,” Walesa said jokingly.