Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s former dictator, dies aged 91

Wojciech Jaruzelski attends a symposium in Paris on Sept. 18, 2009

WARSAW—Poland’s former dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski, who in the 1980s staged a coup to prevent the collapse of communism and oversaw his country’s debt default, has died at the age of 91, his office said on Sunday.

Gen. Jaruzelski suffered a stroke earlier this month.

He introduced martial law in 1981, which involved tanks in the streets, checkpoints and a curfew. Leaders of the popular Solidarity trade union movement, including Lech Walesa, were detained without court orders and often kept incarcerated for months.

Gen. Jaruzelski initially oversaw as interim president the country’s transition to democracy, but parliament later declared that he had breached the country’s communist-era constitution by introducing martial law.

Authorities rolled out criminal charges, accusing him of leading a criminal organization in 1981 and, in his role of defense minister, authorizing the shooting of protesters in the 1970. Trials were adjourned due to the general’s increasingly frail health.

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Check out the Guardian obit, which opens:

Patriot, puppet or pragmatist?  Reformer or orthodox communist?  The jury remains out on the record of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who has died aged 90.  Living quietly in retirement from the end of 1990, Jaruzelski tried hard for the rest of his life to convince the world he had never been less than a Polish patriot, and that from 1989 he dismantled the apparatus of communist rule setting Poland firmly on the path to democracy and the free market.

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