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Poland swears in conservative lawyer Andrzej Duda as president

Andrzej Duda has become the sixth president o f Poland since the country's transition to democracy began in 1989. He says he is ready to "repair the republic."

Duda was sworn in at the presidential palace in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Thursday after being elected in a surprise victory at a May ballot.

The Krakow-born lawyer, who campaigned on pledges to cut the retirement age, raise the threshold for tax-free income and pay child benefits, was a member of the center-right opposition Law and Justice party (PiS) before relinquishing his membership after the election.

Although a Polish president is expected to remain politically neutral, Duda will have the power to veto acts of parliament and to initiate his own bills. The president is also head of the armed forces and has a say in foreign policy.

Russia fears

Duda has vowed to reject all bills aimed at bringing about fundamental changes in the country, saying that he is ready to go beyond a merely ceremonial role to "repair the republic."

In his first speech as president, Duda, 43, said that he was especially concerned about his country's security in view of an increasingly assertive Russia, calling for "a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe."

The call comes as Poland's neighbor, Ukraine, remains embroiled in a months-long insurgency pitting Russia-backed separatist rebels in the country's east against the westward-leaning government in Kyiv.

Government popularity waning

Duda was sworn in as opinion polls show Prime Minister Eva Kopacz and her liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO) party falling behind the PiS.

His election represented a warning to the ruling coalition ahead of October general elections.

Outgoing President Bronislaw Komorowski, the PO candidate defeated by Duda at the May elections, said in a farewell speech on Polish television that the ongoing conflict in neighboring Ukraine would pose the country a pressing security challenge in the coming months.

He said he had sought to promote "unity, dialogue and compromise" during his five-year term.

tj/kms (dpa, Reuters)

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