Poland was left reeling from the tragic loss of its president Lech Kaczynski and several other top officials in a plane crash near the western Russian city of Smolensk. The government has declared a national week of mourning.
A day after the country lost its leader and some of its brightest minds in what is being called the worst national tragedy since World War II, Poland was in mourning Sunday as the bodies of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were expected to arrive in Poland from Russia.
Kaczynski was killed Saturday when his presidential plane, carrying 96 people - who were due to attend a memorial for the World War II massacre in Katyn - crashed near the western Russian town of Smolensk.
There were no survivors and the victims included the army’s chief of staff, the central bank governor, the deputy foreign minister and several members of parliament.
In the capital Warsaw, the historic old town wore a look of mourning as thousands of people gathered to light candles and leave flowers as a commemoration and a means to register their sense of shock and loss. Churches kept their doors open in the deeply Roman Catholic country, and they were packed with worshippers.
Reporting from Warsaw early Sunday, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said thousands of ordinary Poles kept arriving at the presidential palace and the nearby Pilsudski Square throughout the night to lay wreaths and light candles. “What you can see here is a testimony to the deep, deep feeling of solidarity here in Poland. Each candle lit represents one Pole who decided to come here and show his or her solidarity,” said Vanier. “There is a very strong sense of togetherness here again today.”
Poland is marking a week of mourning and the country held a two-minute silence at noon local time (1000 GMT).
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the late president's twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's main opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS), visited the crash site late Saturday where they were met by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The remains of the other victims will be sent to Moscow for identification, according to Russian officials.
Under the Polish constitution, Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of the lower house, has assumed presidential duties. Komorowski has said that he will set the date for an early presidential election after holding talks with Poland's political parties.
Russia declares day of morning
World leaders have expressed shock and sorrow over Poland’s latest loss. In a further gesture of Russian solidarity with Poland, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his condolences to the Polish nation on Saturday evening in an unprecedented television address. Russia has declared April 12 a day of mourning for the crash.
The symbolism of the latest loss, which occurred while the country’s president and top officials were on their way to commemorating a Soviet-era massacre, was not lost on many Poles.
In his comments shortly after the news of the disaster broke, Former Polish president Lech Walesa noted that, “The Soviets killed Polish elites in Katyn 70 years ago. Today, the Polish elite died there while getting ready to pay homage to the Poles killed there.”
US President Barack Obama praised Kaczynski's role in the pro-democracy Solidarity movement that overthrew communism in 1989. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "Germany will miss Lech Kaczynski".
The 60-year Kaczynski was a powerful, often controversial leader who advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda. He is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren.
In the hours and days following the deadly April 10 plane crash, Poles gathered in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to pay tribute to the dead
Thousands of people gathered in front of the Polish presidential palace in the hours after a plane crash killing the head of state Lech Kaczynski. (AFP)
Poland's central bank governor and armed forces chief of staff were also among the 96 people killed when the ageing Tupolev jet crashed in thick fog near the western Russian city of Smolensk. (AFP)
Crowds left red and white roses and lit candles in front of the 200 year old building near Warsaw's old town. Though Kaczynski was a divisive figure in his home country, many were in tears. (AFP)
People spontaneously sent mobile phone text messages asking friends to gather in Pilsudski Square, the traditional venue for large gatherings including Papal masses, on Saturday night. (AFP)
Across the devoutly Catholic country, people flooded into churches to pay homage to, and mourn, the dead. (AP)
"All Poles must be together today regardless of their political views," 50-year-old Jan Szczepanski told reporters. "I didn't support Lech Kaczynski, but it doesn't matter today."
Date created : 2010-04-10