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Poland's Last Communist Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski Dies

  • VOA News

FILE - Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader, is interviewed at his office in Warsaw, Poland.
Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, has died at the age of 90.

Jaruzelski imposed martial law in Poland in 1981 to crackdown on the Solidarity labor movement and to protect the communist leadership. Under martial law, which lasted until 1983, dozens of demonstrators were killed and thousands more, including Lech Walesa, were jailed.

But the World War II veteran and former defense minister engaged Solidarity and other groups in talks that led to radical government changes.

In 1989, the parliament elected him president, a post he held until December 1990, when Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, became president.

Warsaw's Military Medical Institute hospital said Sunday Jaruzelski died after a lengthy illness.

In public a stern, enigmatic figure in trademark dark glasses, Jaruzelski's record defies easy judgment and still divides Poles almost a quarter century after the fall of communism.

Walesa, who was detained by Jaruzelski as Solidarity leader but eventually succeeded him as president, described the communist as a tragic figure who should be judged only by God.

For many Poles, Jaruzelski was a Soviet stooge who, with Moscow's backing, announced military rule on Dec. 13, 1981, after the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain, Solidarity, threatened communist rule.

Others accepted his argument that the decision helped to avert a Soviet-led military intervention like those that crushed similar protests in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.