WARSAW The party of Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Thursday it would vote to have the country's main opposition leader tried at a special tribunal on charges of leading a witch hunt against rivals while his party was in power.
The move marks a new low in relations between Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform party, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the Law and Justice Party, who are engaged in an angry war of words.
The allegations - denied by Kaczynski - were made several years ago, but until now Tusk's party was reluctant to back a vote in parliament required to bring Kaczynski, and his former justice minister, before the tribunal.
"Our intention is mainly to protect the state against the abuse of the constitution by those in power in Poland," said Rafal Grupinski, the Civic Platform's parliamentary leader.
The abuse-of-office charges would be heard by the State Tribunal, a special political court. The tribunal could strip Kaczynski and former minister Zbigniew Ziobro of their parliamentary mandates.
Charges can be initiated in the tribunal if three-fifths of the lower house of parliament vote in support. No date has been set for a parliamentary vote. Tusk's party and two leftist-opposition parties have said they would vote for the charges, leaving them two votes short of the required threshold.
The charges stem from the suicide of leftist politician Barbara Blida in April 2007. When police arrived at her home to arrest her as part of a corruption investigation, she went into the bathroom and shot herself in the heart.
Blida's supporters said she was a victim of a politically-motivated campaign by Kaczynski's party to sideline its opponents. Kaczynski and Ziobro say the investigation into Blida was part of a legitimate effort to root out high-level graft.
Some Civic Platform leaders feared backing charges in the tribunal would exacerbate already difficult relations with Kaczynski, and could be interpreted by some as the government cracking down on dissent.
But in a sign the Civic Platform was taking a harder line against Law and Justice, Tusk accused Kaczynski on Thursday of creating an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred.
Kaczynski angered Tusk when last month he suggested the prime minister was in some way behind a plane crash in Russia in 2010 which killed Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech, and dozens of other officials.
An official investigation blamed the crash on a combination of bad weather and misjudgments by the crew and ground control.
Tusk said this sort of accusation was driving some people to take extreme actions. He has cited the example of a 45-year-old radical nationalist arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up parliament.
"If somebody thinks of himself as a patriot and believes Kaczynski, that Poland is ruled by killers, then I'm not surprised that some react in this way," Tusk said.
"It's not like everybody can just use words that won't leave a mark in people's minds and hearts," he said.
(Reporting by Chris Borowski; Editing by Rosalind Russell)