Poland appoints new foreign and health ministers

FILE PHOTO: Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz attends a news conference following the talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Warsaw, Poland July 27, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has appointed Zbigniew Rau, the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, to the post of foreign minister, as Warsaw seeks to play a leading role in the EU response to a political crisis in neighbouring Belarus.

At a news conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also said that economist Adam Niedzielski, the head of the national health fund (NFZ), had been appointed health minister.

The appointments come at a crucial time for both ministries, as Poland grapples with rising daily coronavirus cases and seeks to push the EU to take an active diplomatic stance towards Belarus, a close Russian ally whose borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are major NATO frontiers.

“Today both men are certainly mentally, intellectually and spiritually immersing themselves in the issues they will be responsible for,” Morawiecki said.

The appointments come two days after the departure of previous Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski, and hours after Jacek Czaputowicz resigned as foreign minister on Thursday morning.

Czaputowicz had signalled in July he may quit, as the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party announced it planned personnel changes in the government during a reshuffle in the autumn that could see the number of ministries reduced.

Thousands of people have demonstrated in Belarus against official election results that showed President Alexander Lukashenko re-elected in an Aug. 9 vote the opposition says was rigged. The EU has announced financial sanctions against Belarusian officials it blames for vote fraud.

Belarus has blamed the protests on foreign interference and said it is reinforcing its Western borders.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko,Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper, Alicja Ptak; Writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by Jon Boyle, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood