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Pope trip to Poland at risk over elections -cleric

Written by: Staff

WARSAW, Mar 27 (Reuters) Pope Benedict may postpone his planned visit to Poland in May if the ruling conservatives stick to plans to hold a snap parliamentary election four days before he is due to arrive, a Polish cardinal said today.

Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late Pope John Paul II's personal secretary for 26 years, said that timing the elections so close to the papal visit was likely to be seen by the Vatican as inappropriate.

''The Pope's visit is a historical event,'' Dziwisz told Polish TVN24 channel. ''We cannot allow it to be lost in political disputes.'' The conservatives face a tough fight to muster the two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament needed to dissolve the chamber. Any sign that early polls may jeopardise the papal visit is likely to reduce their chances even further.

Dziwisz said it was standard Vatican practice not to allow the pope's visit to coincide with major political events in the host country.

''The year has 12 months. Any other time (may be picked for elections) but not the week before the Pope's visit,'' he said.

The conservatives, whose minority government has struggled in parliament since winning power in October, have called on other parties to agree to early elections to break the deadlock.

The vote on their motion to dissolve parliament is expected at a sitting between April 4-6.

Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said he saw no reason why Pope Benedict could not visit Poland after the elections but the government would seek clarification from the Vatican through diplomatic channels.

Benedict chose staunchly Catholic Poland as one of the first countries to visit to honour Pope John Paul, his Polish predecessor whose death last year triggered national mourning.

Reuters SI BD2206

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