* Tusk says early election may be needed to restore trust
* News magazine published tapes that embarrassed government
* Prosecutors raid magazine's offices seeking tapes
* Storm of protests about freedom of speech
(Adds gov't lawmaker, details on prosecutors' document)
By Marcin Goettig and Pawel Sobczak
WARSAW, June 19 Poland's opposition, sections of
the media, and rights campaigners on Thursday accused senior
officials of using law enforcement agencies to try to stop a
magazine publishing secret tapes that are embarrassing for the
With even some of his own supporters criticising how he has
handled the tapes affair, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said one
option was to call a snap election - though it was not clear if
he could get the required approval for this from parliament.
Late on Wednesday prosecutors and officers from Poland's
internal security agency raided the offices of the Wprost weekly
magazine that has already published some of the recordings and
is planning to release more next Monday.
The audio tapes - and the government's response to them -
have tarnished the image of Poland, the European Union's biggest
eastern economy, as a model post-communist democracy.
In the tapes already released, central bank governor Marek
Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz were recorded
discussing the removal of another minister and ways to put
pressure on a private businessman.
Belka and Sienkiewicz have said their words were taken out
of context and they deny doing anything illegal.
A member of parliament with Tusk's Civic Platform party told
Reuters: "I think the prime minister made a serious mistake by
not dismissing minister Sienkiewicz." He spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was discussing internal party business.
Tusk told a news conference he was committed to respecting
freedom of speech but there was also a need to track down any
as-yet unpublished tapes to stop them being used to blackmail
"It may happen that the only solution will be earlier
elections if the crisis in confidence is so deep," Tusk added.
Poland's zloty currency was little changed but volatile on
Thursday and credit default swaps - the price of insuring Polish
debt against default - were stable.
Parliament can trigger an early election if two-thirds of
lawmakers vote in favour, but no bloc in parliament controls
that number of votes. An official with the main opposition
group, Law and Justice (PiS) told Reuters the party's focus was
on the election taking place late next year as scheduled.
Photographs of the raid on the magazine's offices posted on
Twitter showed officials trying to wrestle a laptop out of the
hands of Sylwester Latkowski, the editor-in-chief of Wprost
magazine. He later said he had managed to hold on to the laptop
and also a thumb drive containing the additional recordings his
magazine planned to publish on Monday.
Reuters reporters who visited the offices of Wprost magazine
late on Wednesday, after the raid, said a door to the
editor-in-chief's office had been ripped off its hinges. Inside,
pieces of torn paper were strewn across the floor.
Tusk said law enforcement agencies had conducted the raid on
their own initiative, without political interference.
Prosecutor-General Andrzej Seremet told reporters
prosecutors acted lawfully and there was no intent to restrict
freedom of the press.
But Adam Bodnar, a Polish lawyer, said the separation
between the government and law enforcement was blurred, first
because the head of the internal security agency, whose officers
were on the raid, is subordinate to Tusk, and second because
Sienkiewicz himself had helped trigger the prosecutors' actions.
Staff at Wprost's offices showed Reuters copies of a
document they said prosecutors presented to them during the raid
to justify their actions.
The document states that prosecutors were acting on the
basis, among other things, of a motion filed by Sienkiewicz
about illegal eavesdropping. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's
office, and a spokesman for the interior ministry, both
confirmed that Sienkiewicz had filed that motion.
"Just a few days ago I was of the opinion that at the
central level in Poland we don't have a problem with freedom of
speech and abuses by the government, but this situation changes
my opinion totally," said Bodnar, who is vice president of the
Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
Poland is highly sensitive to any hints of media being
gagged because of its history of censorship during Communism.
An opinion poll conducted since the tapes emerged showed
that the conservative opposition Law and Justice party led with
32 percent support. The poll, by Millward Brown, put Tusk's
centrist Civic Platform (PO) at 25 percent, down from 28 percent
in May, the last time the pollster conducted a survey.
It is not known who made the tapes featuring Belka and
Sienkiewicz, recorded last year in the private room of a Warsaw
restaurant, or how the magazine obtained the recordings.
In one exchange, Sienkiewicz asks Belka if the bank would
help the government with the economy in the event that Tusk's
party was heading for electoral defeat. Belka replies that if
the finance minister were to be removed, he would then tell the
prime minister "very much is possible".
Both men have since said they were talking about
hypothetical scenarios which never materialised.
At celebrations earlier this month in Warsaw to mark 25
years since Poland's Solidarity trade union movement ended
Communist rule, guests including U.S. President Barack Obama
hailed Poland as a beacon of democracy and economic reform.
Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a dissident jailed by the Communists,
said the government today was not living up to those ideals.
"In all highly developed countries Belka and Sienkiewicz
would have left their posts a long time ago," said Frasyniuk,
who helped negotiate the end of communist rule. "Arrogance and
insolence, a belief in your moral superiority and that one can
do anything, are unacceptable."
(Additional reporting by Michal Janusz; Writing by Christian
Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)