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Opposition party wins Polish vote

Leader wants troops out of Iraq, better EU ties

Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Platform party, celebrated with his wife, Malgorzata (left), and daughter Katarzyna (right). Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Platform party, celebrated with his wife, Malgorzata (left), and daughter Katarzyna (right). (wolfgang rattay/REUTERS)

WARSAW - A pro-business opposition party that wants Poland's troops out of Iraq ousted Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government in parliamentary elections yesterday, as Poles opted for leadership offering a more cooperative approach to the European Union.

Donald Tusk's Civic Platform party led with 40 percent of the vote after 32 percent of the ballots were counted early today, which would give the party 194 seats in the 460-seat Sejm lower house.

That would be short of the 231 needed for a majority - but close enough for it to join with a smaller party to form a government.

"Today I am the happiest person in the world," a teary-eyed Tusk told supporters. "People in Poland voted today to choose their own fate and have put a great responsibility, a great task on our shoulders. We undertake this great responsibility."

Kaczynski conceded defeat late last night, saying, "we didn't manage in the face of this unprecedented broad front of attacks," referring to the opposition's campaign.

His Law and Justice party got 32.6 percent of the vote, or 173 seats, according to partial results. Complete results are expected either later today or tomorrow.

Kaczynski said a coalition with the election winner was "out of the question" and pledged to use his time in the opposition to rebuild his forces - and keep a close check on the new government.

A hard-fought campaign generated voter turnout of 52.6 percent, higher than any parliamentary elections since the fall of communism in 1989, according to an exit survey conducted by the PBS DGA polling institute. The high turnout caused some polling stations to run out of ballots and stay open longer than scheduled, delaying the release of the first exit polls for hours.

The election result means Poland will no longer have twin brothers holding the two highest offices; Jaroslaw Kaczynski will remain the country's president with a term lasting until 2010. The 58-year-olds are former child movie stars who as adults became activists with the Solidarity trade union movement that helped topple communism in 1989.

Both Tusk and Kaczynski favor good relations with the United States, but Tusk argues Poland has not gotten enough from its close ties with Washington and wants the country's 900-strong detachment in Iraq to come home. He also says Poland should drive a tough bargain in return for hosting a missile defense base.

The 50-year-old Tusk, the favorite to become the next prime minister, said the election showed that Poles want to focus on the economic opportunities presented by the country's membership in the EU, which Poland joined in 2004.

"It is Civic Platform's intention to make Poles feel much better in their own country than they have felt so far," Tusk said. "You have the right to rejoice today."

Kaczynski had sought the elections two years ahead of schedule after his party could not overcome bickering with the two smaller parties it needed to form a majority.

He has clashed with other EU countries over a new treaty to govern how the union makes decisions, demanding more say for Poland. He is also at odds with the EU over environmental protection, government backing for Polish firms, and the death penalty, which Poland does not have but Kaczynski supports.

The country's deployment of 900 soldiers to Iraq has been extended through the end of the year by the current government, but Kaczynski has suggested it could be extended again. Tusk's party, on the other hand, wants the troops to come home, although some party officials have said that could take as long as until the end of 2008.

Tusk's party also calls for additional security guarantees for Poland such as the US Patriot short-range antimissile and anti-aircraft system, and suggests Kaczynski has failed to win rewards such as visa-free travel for Poles to the United States.

(Correction: Because of an editing error, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was ousted as prime minister of Poland, was misidentified on the World page in late editions yesterday. His brother, Lech Kaczynski, is the country's president.)

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