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Europe

Polish Politician Plays Anti-German Card

Conservative Lech Kaczynski played on Poles' lingering fears of Germany to try to woo voters for the presidency when he presented a report on the devastation caused by the Nazis in Warsaw in World War II.

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Kaczynski's anti-German strategy has been meant to woo older voters

In today's money, Nazi Germany caused at least 45.3 billion euros ($54 billion) in damage to the Polish capital during the war, Kaczynski, who is mayor of Warsaw, said as he presented a report on the 1939 - 1945 Nazi occupation.

"We are only talking about material damage," Kaczynski, who is Warsaw's present-day mayor, told reporters at a briefing.

Although Kaczynski, who is trailing liberal candidate Donald Tusk in the race for the presidency, which goes to a second round on Sunday, denied he was using the lingering animosity between Poland and Germany to try to win votes, political analyst Stanislaw Mocek read the opposite into his tactic.

"It is surely no fluke that he presented this report today. It is clearly a new element of his campaign," said Mocek of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

"Kaczynski is trying to win over older voters who still vividly remember the war. To the young, the past doesn't mean much," he said.

Donald Tusk gewinnt ersten Wahlgang

Donald Tusk, presidential candidate from the Civic Platform party

"He is also trying to win votes in the west of the country, in regions that were German before the war," said Mocek. Tusk scored a clear win in the west in the first round of the vote.

"Not linked in any way"

But Kaczynski insisted the report was not tied to the election.

"Work on this report was begun in May 2004; it is not linked in any way whatsoever to the electoral calendar," he told journalists, before recalling his suspicion of Poland's large neighbour to the west, Germany, and stressing that Poland "needs a president who speaks out decisively, not a president who is open to compromise, as the German press presents Donald Tusk."

The report, nearly 700 pages long and entitled "Warsaw's Losses Between 1939 and 1945," was commissioned in response to announcements that Germans who were expelled from areas in western Poland at the end of the war intended to seek compensation for property they had to leave behind.

"If Germany insists on rewriting history, if there are more demands for compensation...we have a weapon to defend ourselves with this report," Kaczynski said.

"There was no other city in occupied Europe which lost more than half its inhabitants and was more than 80 percent destroyed, as was Warsaw," he said.

"The Germans cannot be allowed to present themselves as the second victims of World War Two after the Jews."

Strategy already used

Fanning the abiding distrust of Germany has already been used in the election campaign.

Last week, Kaczynski's election team accused Tusk's grandfather of fighting in the German army in World War II, an accusation Tusk said "overstepped the bounds of decency" -- and which cost Kaczynski's campaign chief Jacek Kurski his job.

1939 Einmarsch deutscher Truppen in Polen

Nazi troops march into Poland in 1939

World War Two started with the German invasion of Poland, and accusations of collaborating with the Nazis during the war still hit home, more than half a century later.

"Kaczynski always puts himself forward as the only good guy," said Mocek.

But neither his accusations about Tusk's grandfather being in the Wehrmacht, nor the report on Nazi destruction in Warsaw, appeared to have done the conservative presidential candidate much good. Five days before the second round, opinion polls put Tusk in the lead with around 58 percent of the vote, with Kaczynski about 15 points behind him.

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