Polish president, challenger face off in last debate

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski and his challenger in a close election faced off Thursday evening in a tense debate.

The showdown was a final chance for the contenders to sway voters ahead of Sunday's runoff balloting. Incumbent Komorowski, a conservative pro-Europe leader, is competing against Andrzej Duda, a 43-year-old lawyer and member of the European Parliament who is tied to the nationalist and populist Law and Justice party.

Polls predict an extremely close race, with Duda narrowly ahead in some and Komorowski barely ahead in others.

Komorowski, 62, has been a popular president and had been expected to easily win re-election. But Duda's strong showing in a first round on May 10, which helped force a runoff, has exposed a rising disillusionment with the long-ruling Civic Platform party, which Komorowski is allied with.

At the start of the debate Thursday, Duda walked over to Komorowski and placed a small Civic Platform flag on his podium, to remind voters of his links to the party that many blame for policies that are forcing young Poles to emigrate in search of jobs and a better life.

A clearly irritated Komorowski, who formally left the party when he became president in 2010, passed the flag on to the moderator, commenting that "the president must be impartial and have his own conscience."

Over the next 70 minutes, often in angry tones, the two exchanged views on vital issues ranging from wages and pensions to strained relations with a resurgent Russia and whether Poland should take in Christians fleeing violence in Syria.

Duda sought to discredit Komorowski, who in turn took pains to describe Duda and his conservative Law and Justice party as backward, calling them "medieval" more than once.

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