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Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, dies

The last leader of communist Poland, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, has died aged 90. He was notorious for his alleged role in the military crackdown on the Solidarity trade union in 1981.

The Polish PAP news agency said on Sunday that General Wojciech Jaruzelski died in hospital in Warsaw aged 90, citing former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Jaruzelski had suffered a stroke earlier in the month, following a series of health problems in recent years, including pneumonia and cancer.

Owing to his bad state of health, he was declared unfit to stand trial over his decision as prime minister to impose martial law in 1981 against the Solidarity freedom movement, and also for his role, when he was the defense minister, in the shooting deaths of protesting workers in 1970.

Jaruzelski always argued that his decision to impose martial law had helped avert a Soviet military intervention, but doubt has been cast on whether there was any intention from the Soviet side to make such a move.

He was president of Poland from 1989 to 1990, during which time he convened talks that led to the legalization of Solidarity - and then to the first partially free elections in the Soviet bloc that finally broke the communists' monopoly on power.

After his resignation, he was succeeded by former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, with whom he became partially reconciled in his last years.

tj/lw (AFP, Reuters)