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A sea of candles as Poles mourn president killed in plane crash


A sea of candles glowed outside Poland's presidential palace last night as the body of president Lech Kaczynski arrived home.

He was killed with his wife Maria and 94 other members of the country's elite when their plane crashed in Russia on Saturday.

Throughout the staunchly Roman Catholic country, millions flocked to churches to pay their respects to the victims. The scenes echoed those after the death of
Polish-born Pope John Paul II nearly five years ago.

Kaczynski's body was flown into Warsaw's military airport after a farewell ceremony attended by Russian dignitaries including Russian
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In Warsaw, the president's twin brother Jaroslaw, a former prime minister, knelt on the tarmac and pressed his head against the flag-draped coffin. A solemn tribute was
also paid by his devastated
only child - daughter Marta


Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and other senior Polish officials were also there to pay their respects during a
short religious ceremony.

Tens of thousands of mourners stood in silence along the hearse's six-mile route to the palace.

Polish Army soldiers salute the coffin carrying the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Warsaw, Poland

In a moving mark of respect, church bells pealed at noon and emergency sirens shrieked for nearly a minute before fading into silence. Hundreds bowed their heads, eyes closed, in
front of the presidential palace. Buses and trams halted in the streets.

No date for a funeral has been set.

The presidential jet, carrying many of Poland's political and military leaders, crashed in western Russia as it was trying to land at a military airbase in thick fog.

Also among the dead were Poland's army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, and heads of the air and land forces.

The jet's passengers had been bound for a 70th anniversary memorial service for the 22,000 leading Poles massacred by Stalin's secret police in the Katyn forest during the
Second World War, a historic wound which has still not healed.


Lech Kaczynski

The daughter of President Lech Kaczynski, Marta, and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski pay their respects in front of his coffin today

As intensive investigations went on, questions were being asked about why the jet's two experienced air force pilots ignored repeated advice from Russian ground control to
take the Tupolev 154 to another airport. At least one other plane had
already been diverted.

Russian officials say pilots ignored warnings that they were flying too low.

Experts say the crew may have been ordered to press on with the landing by the president or a senior military commander on board.

A government source admitted that Kaczynski would have suffered political embarrassment if he had missed the Katyn ceremony. He was said to have seen the trip as the unofficial
start of his campaign for a presidential election.

Polish aviation sources said Kaczynski had a record of being 'demanding' with his plane's pilots.

 Vladimir Putin

Respects: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Ambassador in Moscow Jerzy Bahr place a flower on the coffin at Smolensk airport



Russian soldiers escort members of the Polish army who carry the flag-draped casket during a farewell ceremony at the airport of Smolensk, Russia


A Polish man

A Polish man mourns at the site where Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 plane crashed near Smolensk airport


London-based Polish parish priest Reverend Canon Bronislaw Gostomski was also revealed to have perished in the crash.

More than 400 Polish people attended a Saturday evening service at his parish church St Andrew Bobola in
Hammersmith, west London.

The Queen led the British tributes to the President and other victims of the crash.

The Prince of Wales also expressed his sadness, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader
David Cameron.

Polish President plane crash

'A black day for Poland': The death toll included the country's President and wife, its central bank head and the country's military chief along with other
senior government and military figures

Polish president crash

In pieces: The wreckage of the Polish president's plane lies in woodland near Smolensk airport in Russia

Tupolev Tu-154

Wreckage: The fuselage of the plane lies in woodland near Smolensk airport

Despite bad weather being blamed for the crash, analysts said there would inevitably be speculation in Poland that the Russians were somehow involved.

It was not the first time the presidential plane - a 26-year-old Russian-made Tupolev-154 - had encountered difficulties.

It had been grounded during a state visit to Mongolia 16 months ago owing to technical problems, leaving the Polish leader to charter a private jet
for the next stage of his tour to Japan.

There have been 16 crashes involving Tupolev-154s since 1994, killing 1,727 people, and Poles have been asking why their president was using an aircraft with such a poor safety
record rather than fly with the Polish state airline LOT whose entire
fleet is Western-made.

The Tupolev clipped the tops of trees as it tried to land at Smolensk, lurching sideways and breaking into pieces. Wreckage including engines
and a large part of the red and white tail were strewn over a forest
less than a mile from the runway.

Radio communication with the plane had been lost just before 8am yesterday.

St Andrew Bobola

A mourner in Hammersmith, west London, lays a tribute to parish priest Reverend Canon Bronislaw Gostomski, who was killed in this morning's plane crash

Mr Putin said he would personally lead a commission of inquiry into the accident, while the Polish authorities announced that they would hold their own investigation into what
commentators described as one of the worst tragedies to befall the
country since the Second World War.

Edward Lucas, a leading expert on East European affairs, said: 'Although there is no evidence that the crash was caused by sabotage, many Poles will think foul play was involved
because of the historical parallels with Katyn.

Mourners in Poland

Grief: A huge crowd of mourners gather in front of the Presidential Palace to pay tribute


'This is a colossal tragedy for Poland, which has so often seen its elite wiped out by emigration, mass murder or foreign occupation.'

Lech Walesa, the former shipyard electrician who inspired his country's return to democracy 21 years ago, gave voice to the deep suspicions that many Poles still have for their Russian neighbours when
he said: 'This is unimaginable. It is Katyn No2.'

Presidential Palace in Warsaw
Presidential Palace in Warsaw

Tributes: Thousands of Poles flooded the streets around Warsaw's presidential palace on hearing news of the plane crash which killed Lech Kaczynski and his
wife Maria

Slawomir Skrzypek
Franciszek Gagor

A black day for Poland: National Bank President Slawomir Skrzypek, left, and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Franciszek Gagor both died on board the plane

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria

Dead: Polish President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria were among 97 who perished in this morning's plane crash

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was reported to have wept when told of the disaster.

The Queen expressed her 'deepest sympathy' to the Polish government and people while Gordon Brown said the whole world would be 'saddened'.

Clarence House said the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who visited Poland last month, were 'deeply upset'.

As president, Mr Kaczynski wielded considerable political power and was accused by critics of interfering in policy decisions.

Together with Jaroslaw he founded the Law and Justice party in 2001, which stresses the traditional values of Roman Catholicism.

Jaroslaw now leads the Conservative opposition. At the age of 12, the pair shot to fame as stars of the 1962 Polish children's film Two Who Stole the Moon.

In the Seventies, Lech followed his brother into the anti-Communist Solidarity movement led by Walesa.

In the wake of the 2005 election, Poland had both Kaczynskis holding the reins of power - Lech as President and, from July 2006 to November 2007, Jaroslaw as
Prime Minister.




Scene: A plane carrying the Polish president crashed on landing at Smolensk airport

World leaders pay tribute

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: 'The only thing I can say now is that I'm in deep shock about the plane crash and the death of the Polish

U.S. President Barack Obama: 'Devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world. President Lech Kaczynski was a distinguished statesman who played a key
role in the Solidarity
movement, and he was widely admired in the United States as a leader
dedicated to advancing freedom and human dignity.'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: 'I was a personal friend of President Lech Kaczynski. This a grave moment of mourning for a friendly
country and Italy joins in the mourning with all its heart.'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown: 'President Kaczynski was one of the defining actors in Poland's modern political history. From his role in
the Solidarity movement to his long and distinguished career in public
service.He will mourned across the world and remembered as a passionate
patriot and democrat.'

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende: 'This is a disaster of unprecedented magnitude. For the families, for all the Polish people. That this happens on such a scale is beyond

French President Nicolas Sarkozy: 'France loses a friend who was profoundly attached to developing relations between our two countries. Driven by an ardent sense of
patriotism, Lech Kaczynski dedicated his life to his country. A tireless
defender of the ideas in which he believed, he always fought with
conviction for the values that underpinned his entry into politics.'

Israeli President Shimon Peres: 'The tragedy is a terrible blow to the Polish people and the entire world. President Kaczynski and his wife did
much work to bring reconciliation between the Israeli and Polish
peoples, and made a significant contribution to help heal the wounds of
the past and build a better common future.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: 'President Kaczynski served his country and people with distinction and conviction.'

Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom: 'Friendship with Hungary, which we celebrated every year together, had a special place in his heart.'

Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament: 'It's with great sadness that I learnt about the shocking news of the crash -- on board was my
friend and a great Polish politician, Lech Kaczynski. It is with a heavy
heart that I think of all those with him on board of the plane.'

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite: 'I am personally shocked because I spoke with him just a day before yesterday. We have lost a good friend.'

Lithuania Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius: 'Poland President's death is a huge tragedy. Lithuania has lost a true friend.'

and many others ...




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