US visa curbs on Poles decried

Former Polish president and Solidarity union leader Lech Walesa says the US is ridiculing his country through its stringent visa requirements for Polish citizens.

    Walesa says Poles have paid with blood for US politicians' mistakes

    "We have to talk with the Americans (about visas) seriously," Walesa told Polish public radio on Tuesday.

    "They are making fun of us."

    The ex-communist bloc country, which joined the European Union on 1 May, has maintained traditionally close links with Washington since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some 10 million people of Polish origin live in the US.

    Many Poles have, however, expressed resentment about having to get visas to visit the US, at a time when Poland is a key member of the US-led occupation forces in Iraq with a contingent of 2500 troops.

    Walesa said Poles had "paid with their blood for the mistakes of American politicians" who treated them as dispensable.

    Walesa, a Nobel Peace prize laureate, also lashed out at Polish politicians for their lack of skill in negotiating with Washington. "Americans respect those who are rich, wise and strong," he said.

    Letter to Bush

    Last week, Walesa said he had written, but not sent, a letter to President George Bush asking for the visa obligation to be lifted.

    No progress was apparently made on the issue during talks in Washington on Monday between Prime Minister Marek Belka and Bush.

    A Philippine soldier waves as he
    drives out of the Polish-led base 

    Citizens from most other European Union countries are exempt from visa requirements. Poles have also expressed resentment at having to have their fingerprints taken at the US embassy when they apply for visas.

    Conditioned alliance

    A US takeover of Polish command in the troubled city of Najaf hot on the heels of the Philippines' withdrawal of its troops from Iraq has underscored a weak multinational force in which Anglo-US domination only exacerbates insecurity, analysts said on Tuesday.

    As of Monday, American marines took command of the provinces of Najaf and Qadisiya amid what the Polish military described as a "deteriorated security situation" in the central city known as home for Shia Muslim rituals.

    Where the 6500-strong Polish-led multinational division was responsible for five provinces, they now retain control of only three, undermining the strength of the 32-member multinational military occupation in Iraq.

    Governments of the occupation troops operating under Polish command had agreed to conduct only stability and security operations in Iraq.

    A key US ally, Poland contributed special forces to last year's invasion of Iraq, but will slash its contingent from 2500 to about 1500 staff early next year.

    The US takeover came days after intense fighting engulfed Najaf when US troops intervened allegedly at the request of the local governor to help Iraqi forces crush the al-Mahdi Army, loyal to Muslim Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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