Top figure quits Polish ruling party before vote

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WARSAW, Sep 12 (Reuters) Former Polish defence minister Radek Sikorski, a prominent member of parliament, today defected to the main opposition party in a blow to the ruling conservatives ahead of a snap election next month.

Parliament called the early election last week to try to end weeks of political turmoil that led to the acrimonious collapse of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's coalition government in the EU member state of 38 million.

''It is very difficult for me, but I am disappointed with Jaroslaw Kaczynski,'' said Sikorski, announcing his defection.

''That is why I will be running for the parliament on the Civic Platform list,'' said Oxford-educated Sikorski, who is also a well known commentator on Europe in Washington. He gave no further reasons at the news conference.

The centrist Civic Platform is neck-and-neck in opinion polls with the socially conservative Law and Justice party of Kaczynski and twin brother Lech, the president. Markets hope for a Civic Platform win and a more business-friendly government.

The parliamentary election in the former communist country is on October. 21, two years early. Senior Law and Justice deputy Krzysztof Putra described Sikorski's departure as a betrayal.

Sikorski left the cabinet in February after two years in office.

Local media reported disagreements with the prime minister, but he gave no reason for his departure.

Polish media said the Kaczynskis had criticised Sikorski for his handling of talks with Washington over the proposed stationing of a US missile defence system on Polish soil.

Last year, Sikorski infuriated Berlin by comparing a deal to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, by-passing Poland, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to carve up Poland at the start of World War Two.

Reuters SG GC1741

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