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Polish government seeks to limit leaks scandal fallout

Poland's beleaguered government is scrambling to limit fallout from a high-profile eavesdropping scandal after its foreign minister was allegedly caught on tape slamming Warsaw's alliance with the United States as "worthless".

WARSAW: Poland's beleaguered government is scrambling to limit fallout from a high-profile eavesdropping scandal after its foreign minister was allegedly caught on tape slamming Warsaw's alliance with the United States as "worthless".

Prime Minister Donald Tusk struck a defiant note after reports of the secret recording.

"The Polish government will not be dictated to by people who illegally planted these bugs... whether by ill-will, naivety, greed or to serve political interests," he told journalists on Monday.

The new scandal comes barely a week after a leak suggesting his government cut a deal with the central bank to boost the budget sparked a national outcry.

The opposition called on Tusk's centre-right government to resign, forcing him to threaten a snap election.

Analysts believe an early ballot is unlikely in the central European heavyweight, as a most MPs want to complete their four-year term.

Still, the future looks shaky for Tusk's Civic Platform (PO).

Polls show the party's public support is down to 25 per cent, while the conservative opposition Law and Justice (PiS) has climbed to 32 per cent.

Rising dissatisfaction with the two-term premier became clear last month when PO won the European parliament elections by a whisker -- less than a percentage point ahead of PiS.

The fresh leaks focus on Poland's international ties as the ex-communist state -- and current NATO and EU member -- grapples with security concerns sparked by the escalating crisis in neighbouring Ukraine.

"You know the Polish-US alliance is worthless," Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski allegedly tells former finance minister Jacek Rostowski in a recording obtained by the Wprost weekly.

"It's harmful even, because it gives Poland a false sense of security," he adds according to a transcript published by Wprost.

Poland has floated Sikorski -- known for his Atlanticism bent and hawkishness on Russia -- as its choice to succeed Catherine Ashton, whose term as European Union foreign policy chief ends this year.

US Ambassador to Warsaw Stephen Mull responded coolly to the revelations, tweeting: "I'm not going to comment on alleged content of private conversations. As for our alliance, I think it's strong."

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said on Monday that the leaks "change nothing" in bilateral ties.

"The US is a tremendously important partner, especially in security matters."

After WikiLeaks, the Americans "are quite used to the fact that the general public can read what they have said and the NSA was probably eavesdropping on these conversations anyway," said Krzysztof Bobinski, head of the Warsaw-based Unia & Polska Foundation, a pro-EU think tank.

"Of course it makes Sikorski look good in Europe's eyes. He's saying we have to build alliances in Europe and build the military security arm of the European Union," he told AFP.

Sociologist Andrzej Rychard believes the leaks are unlikely to trigger Tusk's immediate demise.

"The leaks don't undermine the government... Sikorski is just expressing what the majority of Poles already think about the alliance with the US," Rychard told public broadcaster TVP Info.

Prosecutors have launched a probe into the first set of leaks.

These purportedly feature central bank chief Marek Belka telling Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz he would support the government's economic policy if Rostowski -- then finance minister -- resigned.

The conversation allegedly took place at a swish Warsaw restaurant in July 2013. Months later, Rostowski left the job.

Days after Wprost posted the embarrassing audio recording, government agents raided its offices and tried to wrestle a laptop out of the editor-in-chief's arms -- a scene that raised alarm at home and abroad over press freedom.

Tusk has dubbed the leaks an attempted "coup d'etat" aimed at "destabilising" Poland.

But the leading Gazeta Wyborcza daily suggested on Monday that extortion could be the real motive.

It said three waiters at the Sowa & Przyjaciele restaurant eavesdropped on Warsaw's political and business elites for blackmail purposes.

Sikorski has called the leaks an "attack on the government by organised crime".

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