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Poland's government names new foreign, health ministers

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki following a vote in parliament that approved legislation for all-postal voting after Sunday presidential election was postponed due to organizational problems, in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, May 7, 2020. The ruling party says that July 12 is the possible new date for the election.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW – Poland's prime minister on Thursday appointed new ministers of foreign affairs and health, important postings that will help guide the conservative government's response to the coronavirus pandemic and upheaval in neighboring Belarus.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw that the new foreign minister will be Zbigniew Rau, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament. He has expertise in Poland's relationship with the United States, a key ally.

Rau, a law professor and a former governor of the province surrounding Lodz, replaces Jacek Czaputowicz, who announced his resignation earlier on Thursday, in what had been an expected move.

Members of the political opposition criticized the appointment, noting that Rau lacks diplomatic experience and has in the past praised a far-right organization and denounced the LGBT rights movement.

The newly named health minister is Adam Niedzielski, an economist who has worked for many years in different areas of public finance and administration and has most recently been the head of the national health service.

Morawiecki said that experience makes Niedzielski the right person for the job as the nation braces for a second wave in the coronavirus pandemic as well as longstanding structural problems in the health service.

“This is a person who we need very much because the health service in the coming months and quarters will be better able to survive the second wave of the coronavirus the more we are modernized,” Morawiecki said.

Niedzielski replaces Łukasz Szumowski, a cardiologist, who resigned earlier this week amid allegations of wrongdoing in the procurement of medical equipment needed to fight the virus.

Szumowski denied any wrongdoing and said he wants to return to practicing medicine.

Since the beginning of the pandemic Poland has reported over 59,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,925 deaths. The country of 38 million people has fared much better than many countries in western Europe, but the number of new confirmed infections is rising.

Polish authorities have also been stressing their concern over the situation in Belarus, located on Poland's northeastern border, following a disputed presidential election and ongoing protests there. Morawiecki said he met Thursday in Warsaw with Belarusians fighting for a democratic government.

"I am convinced that Poles must support Belarusians in this difficult fight,” Morawiecki said.