Polish opposition blames govt for exodus of workers

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WARSAW, Sep 15 (Reuters) Poland's largest opposition party criticised the ruling conservatives today for failing to stem the exodus of more than a million young Poles seeking work elsewhere in the European Union.

Launching its campaign ahead of a snap parliamentary election in five weeks, the centre-right Civic Platform said Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was responsible for failing to take steps to ensure Poles found better paying jobs at home.

This, its leader said, could weigh on the benefits system.

''This campaign is a fight over whether another 2 million Poles will emigrate,'' Civic Platform's leader Donald Tusk said at a convention in the western city of Gniezno.

''If this trend continues only the least able will remain, awaiting government aid which it won't be able to give because there won't be anybody to squeeze for new taxes.'' The Civic Platform has proposed a flat 15-per cent income tax level and lower employment costs. The government passed a lower personal income tax rate that will take effect in 2009.

As many as 2 million Poles are estimated to have emigrated since the 38-million strong Poland joined the EU in May 2004, seeking higher wages and better living conditions in countries such as Ireland and Britain.

The emigration, coupled with a growing economy, has helped to bring down Polish unemployment to some 12 percent from more than 20 per cent.

Kaczynski, who runs Poland with his twin brother Lech, the president, says his policies have helped achieve falling unemployment and a vibrant economy. He is also emphasising a populist, anti-corruption message in the increasingly bitter campaign.

The opposition says Kaczynski has failed to take advantage of decade-high growth to conduct the necessary reforms, including an overhaul of the health-care system and replacing crumbling infrastructure.

Kaczynski's Law and Justice party and the Civic Platform have traded the lead in opinion polls, with each party supported by about a third of the electorate.

Several top politicians earlier connected with Kaczynski spoke at the Civic Platform convention after joining the pro-business party in recent days.

''I was not pushed away from Law and Justice by its values, but their methods of implementation,'' Kaczynski's former defence minister Radoslaw Sikorski told a large crowd in Gniezno's town square.

But Civic Platform was also shaken up after one of its best known leaders, Jan Rokita, said he would not run in the October election after his wife was named an adviser to the president yesterday.

Rokita said he would still support his party.

REUTERS GT PM1956

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