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Poland's post-communist premier Mazowiecki dies

Poland's first post-communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, has died at the age of 86. He was a key adviser to Poland's Solidarity freedom movement and later UN human rights envoy in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Eastern Europe's first democratic prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, died on Monday in Poland.

During communism, the trained lawyer became a close adviser to Solidarity's leader and shipyard activist Lech Walesa.

Mazowiecki's personal secretary, Michal Prochwicz, said the former premier, who paved the way for Poland's transition to democracy in 1989, died after being hospitalized last Wednesday with a high fever.

The Polish Catholic news agency KAI said the 86-year-old died in Warsaw.

Polish General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in 1981 and outlawed Solidarity, jailing hundreds of activists. Mazowiecki spent one year in confinement. During the 18-month clampdownabout 100 people were killed.

'Lesser evil'

Jaruzelski claimed later that he chose a "lesser evil" to prevent a Soviet military intervention and a bloodbath.

That repression inspired a new wave of strikes in 1988.

Mazowiecki and Walesa walked arm in arm, leading protesting workers through the streets of Gdansk. Mazowiecki authored many terms for subsequent negotiations with the communists that led to elections in June 1989.

In September of that year, Mazowiecki became eastern Europe's first democratically-elected prime minister.

He and Walesa fell out and ran against each other in Poland's presidential election in the following year. Walesa won handily.

Praise from friend and ex-foe

On Monday, Walesa told Poland's commercial TVN24 news channel that "Mazowiecki was the best prime minister Poland ever had."

Walesa, the 983 Nobel Peace laurate added: "He was really one of the outstanding people I met on this journey."

Ex-general Jaruzelski, now 89 and diagnosed two years ago with cancer, told the Polish PAP news agency on Monday: "I valued prime minister Mazowiecki for his wisdom, his moderation and sober evaluation of the difficult situation as well as his determination on matters he thought were crucial."

In 1992 Mazowiecki served as UN envoy to war-torn Bosnia and widely reported on atrocities. He resigned in 1995 after the fall of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica and the murder of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces.

ipj/tj (AP, Reuters, dpa)