White House contender Mitt Romney has wrapped up a gaffe-prone tour in Poland with a swipe about the state of freedom in Russia - and a fresh blunder by an aide who told journalists to "kiss my ass".
On his first visit behind the old Iron Curtain, the Republican presidential candidate vowed his commitment to close ties with Poland, which still has a testy relationship with Moscow more than two decades after the fall of communism.
Hailing his hosts as "an example and defender of freedom", Romney said: "In Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered."
Poland, a country of 38 million which made a peaceful, if difficult, transition from communism in 1989, is now an economically flourishing pillar of the EU and NATO and has supplied troops for the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Poland has no greater friend and ally than the people of the United States," said Romney. "I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America ...
and it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future."
But the final leg of the three-stop tour, aimed at burnishing Romney's foreign policy credentials ahead of the November presidential election, was marred by a verbal attack on journalists by one of his top aides.
His spokesman Rick Gorka lost his cool when journalists pressed Romney during a solemn visit to a World War II memorial in Warsaw over the gaffes that have plagued him during his visits to Israel and Britain.
Gorka told the journalists to "kiss my ass" and to "shove it" as they chased Romney for answers, before calling them half an hour later to apologise.
Some members of the local press also complained bitterly about a lack of access to Romney during his visit.
In Britain, Romney - who organised the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City - triggered outrage after he questioned London's security readiness for the Games which opened on Friday.
His campaign also scrambled to deny that one of Romney's aides told a British newspaper that Obama doesn't understand the "Anglo-Saxon heritage" shared by the US and Britain.
In staunch ally Israel, he angered the Palestinians for endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and saying that Israeli "culture" helps them succeed economically.
- AFPBy Mary Sibierski of AFP