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Europe

Russia, EU mark official day of mourning for Polish president

Video by Rebecca BOWRING

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-04-12

Russia and the EU mark an official day of mourning on Monday as Poland observes a week of commemoration following the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady and dozens of senior Polish leaders in a plane crash on Saturday.

The body of Polish President Lech Kaczynski arrived in the Polish capital of Warsaw on Sunday, a day after his plane, carrying 96 people - including many senior Polish officials - crashed in western Russia, killing everyone on board and plunging the nation into mourning.

The flag-drapped coffin was met by acting President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Also on the tarmac was Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother and a former prime minister, and Marta Kacyznski, the only child of the president and his wife, Maria, who also perished in the crash.

After a short religious ceremony, the coffin is being driven under military escort to the presidential palace, where it will be available for public viewing.

"The people of Warsaw have lined the road heading back from the military airport into the centre of town, where the presidential palace is" reported FRANCE 24's special correspondent in Warsaw, Gulliver Cragg, who described a "nation in shock".

The president's coffin arrived on a flight from the western Russian town of Smolensk, near where the presidential plane crashed on Saturday. A short, sombre ceremony, attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was held at the Smolensk airport before the coffin was flown to Warsaw.

The remains of the other victims of this tragedy will now be sent to Moscow for identification, according to Russian officials.

Cry of pain

Earlier on Sunday, Poland observed a two minute silence to honour the president and the 95 others – including the army’s chief of staff, the central bank governor, the deputy foreign minister and several members of parliament – who died.

"These two minutes weren't very silent in central Warsaw because there were the fire brigade sirens going on all the time, which sounded like a cry of pain", said FRANCE 24's Cragg.

Saturday’s crash, which lost the nation its leader and some of the country’s brightest minds, is being called the worst national tragedy since World War Two.

'Every candle lit represents one Pole who decided to come here'

Thousands of people gathered at the presidential palace and the nearby Pilsudski Square in Warsaw on Sunday amid a sea of candles, wreaths and flowers as a hush descended across the East European nation. Sunday marked the start of a week of mourning in Poland.

Reporting from Warsaw early on 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.”

Russia declares day of mourning

World leaders have expressed shock and sorrow over Poland’s latest loss. In a further gesture of Russian solidarity with Poland, 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.

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.

 

Date created : 2010-04-11

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