US republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is in Poland on the final leg of a foreign tour that continues to provoke controversy.
In the Baltic port of Gdansk he met Lech Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity movement that toppled the communist Polish government in the 1980’s.
But his visit did not have the support of Solidarity, who said that in the past Romney has supported attacks on trade unions and employee rights.
He arrived in Poland from Israel, where his suggestion that ‘cultural’ differences could be behind that country’s economic success in comparison to Palestinians, has led to some strong criticism.
Saeb Erekat, senior aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said:
“Today, Mr Romney takes another step forward with a racist statement saying that it’s because of the Israeli culture – it is better than the Palestinian culture. Look, Palestinians and Israelis may be in a conflict, but Palestinians and Israelis are people, equal, and such racist statements do not serve those who are trying to protect and save lives in this region”.
But some observers say the response may be more about misunderstanding rather than racism.
“He said something which could have been misinterpreted”, said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “And I hope that that was the case; I definitely hope that no one who is a candidate for the presidency of the United States is a real racist.”
Mitt Romney has also cast aspersions on the UK’s ability to run the Olympics and described Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is thought his tour is aimed at promoting his foreign office credentials as part of his campaign for the White House.