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Archive for Friday, October 19, 2001

Poland’s last communist leader denies ordering troops to shoot protesters

October 19, 2001

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— Poland's last communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, defiantly denied in court Thursday that he ordered troops to shoot at workers during anti-communist protests in 1970.

"The indictment is groundless. It includes crucial gaps, mistakes and manipulations," Jaruzelski, 78, told the seven-judge panel in Warsaw District Court, where he is accused of being responsible for the deaths of dozens of striking shipyard workers.

"During the tragic events of December 1970, I did not violate the constitution, I did not issue an order to use firearms, I did not commit any crime," Jaruzelski said.

Thursday was the first day of Jaruzelski's testimony in a trial delayed for years by legal wrangling over Poland's effort to hold him responsible for communist-era crimes. His initial testimony, which lasted more than four hours, will continue when the court reconvenes Nov. 8.

Soldiers fired on the workers Dec. 17, 1970, as they protested price increases in the Baltic coast cities of Gdynia, Gdansk, Szczecin and Elblag. At least 44 people were killed in the unrest, and more than 1,000 were injured.

The retired general was defense minister at the time. He headed Poland's communist regime from 1981 until its demise in 1989.

Standing at the defendants' bench, Jaruzelski, dressed in a dark gray suit, read slowly from 81 pages of typed testimony he prepared for the case.

He said the case has "political roots" and is being reported by the news media in a "tendentious way."

Prosecutors contend that Jaruzelski violated the constitution when, at the request of the communist party leadership, he issued an order to shoot at the workers.

The shootings sparked a wave of anti-communist riots and clashes with police in the coastal cities, forcing the dismissal of the party chief at the time, Wladyslaw Gomulka.

The unrest also spurred shipyard union activity that eventually gave birth to the Solidarity movement, which successfully fought to end communist rule in the 1980s.

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