Polish prez killed in air crash

Polish prez killed in air crash

Army chief, top leaders among 97 victims; pilot error possible reason for mishap

Polish prez killed in air crash

File picture of Polish President Lech Kaczynski carrying his granddaughter Eva. AFP

The death of Kaczynski, who with his twin brother was a dominant force in Polish politics, brings political uncertainty. A presidential election had been due in October but now must be held within two months, according to the constitution.

The president’s wife and several other high-ranking government officials were also aboard the aged Tupolev Tu-154 that plunged into a forest about two km from the airport in the western Russian city of Smolensk.

Pilot error was a possible reason for the crash, said Andrei Yevseyenkov, spokesman for the Smolensk local government. Local officials said the plane had clipped treetops on its way down.

“The political consequences will be long-term and possibly will change the entire future landscape of Polish politics,” said Jacek Wasilewski, professor at the Higher School of Social Psychology in Warsaw.

KaczynskFile photo of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria sign a book upon their arrival at the Chateau Lany some 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) west of Prague, Czech Republic. APi, 59, was a one-time ally of Solidarity hero Lech Walesa and a co-founder of the rightist Law and Justice party with his brother. He resigned from the party when he became president in 2005 but continued to support it. A party source said his twin Jaroslaw Kaczynski was not on the plane that crashed.

While the president’s role is largely symbolic, the holder can veto government legislation. Lech Kaczynski infuriated the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk several times by blocking legislation including health sector reform.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, has been named acting president, as the constitution stipulates. Komorowski is also Tusk’s presidential candidate in the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party. Russian television showed the smouldering fuselage and fragments of the plane scattered in a forest. A Reuters reporter saw a broken wing some distance from the rest of the aircraft.