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Former Polish Dictator Jaruzelski Dead At 90

Wojciech Jaruzelski (left) with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev at the Vnukovo Airport in 1982
Polish media reports that General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader who tried but failed to crush the Solidarity union, died Sunday aged 90.

The Polish PAP news agency said on May 25 it had learned of the death from former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Jaruzelski led Poland from 1981, when he declared martial law and ordered the arrest of Lech Walesa, the leader of the Soviet bloc's first free trade union.

Walesa was detained for one year, and the clampdown resulted in nearly 100 deaths and some 10,000 detentions.

But he lifted martial law two years later and after growing unrest was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in 1989.

He peacefully stepped down as Poland’s president one year later, telling the nation in his farewell speech that he should be held responsible for crimes committed.
OBITUARY: Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's Last Communist Leader

Jaruzelski retreated from public life but was put on trial in 2008 for imposing martial law, based on documentation from Poland's National Remembrance Institute.

A court ruled in 2011 that Jaruzelski was too ill for the trial to continue.

That same year saw a remarkable meeting, when Walesa, in an act of reconciliation, visited Jaruzelski in the hospital.

Jaruzelski, who was born in 1923 into an aristocratic family, later fought in a Polish unit of the Russian army during World War II and rose up the military ranks after the war to become chief "political officer" of Poland's armed forces.

He was defense minister at the time of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in which Poland took part.

He had been in ill health for some time, battling cancer, and suffered a stroke earlier this month.
Based on reports by AFP and BBC