Poland will go ahead with the weekend funeral of President Lech Kaczynski despite fears that the arrival of foreign leaders for the commemoration will be disrupted by the same volcanic ash cloud that has grounded thousands of flights.
AFP - Poland pushed ahead Friday with plans for the weekend funeral of president Lech Kaczynski despite a volcanic ash cloud that has disrupted air traffic and threatens the arrival of foreign leaders.
Authorities had earlier warned they could delay Sunday's ceremony after the ash from Iceland's volcano eruption forced Poland to close most of its airspace and shut the airport in Krakow, where US President Barack Obama and other heads of state are due to land.
"The will of the family is that in no circumstances should the date of the funeral ceremonies be changed, and that they should go ahead as planned," presidential aide Jacek Sasin told reporters.
Kaczynski and 95 other people, mainly senior Polish dignitaries, were killed Saturday when his government jet crashed in thick fog in western Russia while taking a delegation to a memorial service for a World War II massacre.
"Respect for the dead and for all those involved in the preparations does not allow for any change," Sasin added.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among a host of other national leaders who are due to attend the funeral in Krakow's historic Wawel castle.
Britain's Prince Charles and Vatican envoy Cardinal Anglo Sodano are also on the list.
No dignitaries have so far cancelled their plans to attend, despite the huge travel disruption caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, which covered the skies of northern Europe Thursday.
Poland's aviation agency said that the country's airspace would be closed from 8:00 am (0600 GMT) until further notice. It initially said Krakow and Rzeszow airports, both in the south, would remain open.
But Krakow -- where some 80 planes carrying foreign dignitaries are scheduled to land on Sunday morning for the funeral -- was shut down later Friday, spokeswoman Justyna Zajaczkowska said.
"Two days is a distant perspective in terms of weather forecasts, we must wait to have further information," Zajaczkowska told private television.
"For the time being, regardless of the information about the (volcanic) cloud, we are doing everything to be ready" for the arrival of the funeral guests, she said.
Presidential aide Sasin had earlier said postponing the funeral was a "very serious alternative which must be taken into consideration."
A memorial service for all the crash victims is also being held on Saturday in Warsaw, in a square that was the location for the vast masses celebrated by late Polish pope John Paul II on pilgrimages to his deeply Catholic homeland.
The decision to hold Sunday's funeral for Kaczynski and his wife Maria at Wawel castle, where the country's past kings and national heroes are laid to rest, has sparked protests and a Facebook campaign.
Kaczynski was a divisive political figure in life due to his conservative, nationalist policies.
The row fractured the sense of national unity at the loss of the president and senior figures including Poland's four top military commanders and the governor of the central bank.
Russian investigators were set to finish inspecting the crash site near the city of Smolensk on Friday, the Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Investigators said Thursday that pilot error was suspected in the crash, following the first analysis of the jet's black box flight recorders.
Polish authorities said the recordings showed that the crew knew they were doomed after hitting trees while trying to land.
Kaczynski's delegation had been headed to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish officers were slaughtered by the Soviets during World War II.
Date created : 2010-04-16