Poland plunged into grief by death of president

Poland plunged into grief by death of president

Volunteers carry candles in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday. AP

Tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities to show their grief after the jet came down in thick fog near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing 97 people including President Lech Kaczynski and a host of top state, military and religious officials.

Poland started a week of national mourning and the president's identical twin brother, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was among the first relatives to go to Russia to identify the victims.

A nationwide minute of silence was to be held at midday. Russia ordered a day of national mourning on Monday.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is leading an official investigation into the crash on Saturday, but Russian officials have already said the Polish pilots ignored air traffic control warnings that they were too low.

The Russian-built Tupolev Tu-154 jet was taking the presidential party to a memorial service for 22,000 Poles massacred by Soviet troops in World War II when it hit tree tops in fog while approaching Smolensk airport, officials said.

The symbolism of the president's mission to a country which has long been a rival of Poland only added to the national shock over the deaths.

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw and the nearby Pilsudski Square. They prayed, sang the national anthem, waved the red and white Polish flag and lay a carpet of candles and flowers in the national colours.
Kaczynski's populist nationalism often made him a divisive figure at home and in Europe. But the nation united in grief.

Polish soldiers salute in front of the coffin carrying President Lech Kaczynski at the military airport in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday."It's my heart that told me to come here, I simply had to come," said 45-year-old translator Anna Ciostek, who went to the square with her daughter and mother.
Bronislaw Komorowski, the head of Poland's lower house of parliament who took over as interim head of state, joined the throngs in Pilsudski Square.

"The unprecedented scale of this tragedy is unique on a global scale," he told AFP. "We have to deal with this very difficult problem, and we will deal with it."

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the late president's twin brother went to the crash site late yesterday where they were met by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
He returned to Warsaw today and cancelled a visit to Washington for a nuclear safety summit this week, as well as a following visit to Canada.

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