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Europe

Sombre day in Krakow as Kaczynski and wife laid to rest

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-20

The Polish city of Krakow held a funeral on Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, who were killed in an April 10 plane crash along with 94 other Polish political and military officials near Smolensk in Russia.

REUTERS - Polish and foreign leaders attended a funeral mass on Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, but a volcanic ash cloud over Europe prevented some overseas guests from joining them.

 
U.S. President Barack Obama was among those forced by the ash cloud to abandon plans to attend the funeral in Krakow for the Kaczynskis, killed on April 10 with 94 other, mostly senior, political and military officials in a plane crash in Russia.
 
However, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev managed to fly to the city, reinforcing a strong message of Russian solidarity since the crash that has raised Polish hopes for an improvement in long-strained ties with their communist-era overlord.
 
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz praised Russia during the funeral mass, which was held in St Mary's Basilica, a mediaeval church famed for housing Europe's largest carved Gothic altar.
 
"The tragedy of eight days ago and the sympathy and help extended by the Russians in these days give us hope for better relations between our two great nations. I direct those words to Mr President Medvedev," Dziwisz said.
 
Nearby, the coffins of Poland's first couple were both draped with the red and white national flag.
 
Kaczynski's daughter Marta and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads Poland's main opposition party, led the mourners. They had insisted the funeral go ahead on Sunday, despite the ash cloud that has closed Polish and other European airports.
 
Other mourners included Poland's interim President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his government and the presidents of Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Georgia.
 
Unprecedented mourning
 
Outside, an estimated 50,000 mourners watched the mass on large screens. The Kaczynskis' coffins were later to be taken to Wawel cathedral where they would be laid to rest in a crypt normally reserved for Polish kings, national heroes and poets.
 
The funeral crowns a week of unprecedented national mourning for the Kaczynskis and the 94 others who perished in the crash.
 
In Warsaw, Poles had queued through Saturday night to view the coffins while they remained on public display. Early on Sunday, the coffins were flown by military plane to Krakow at a low altitude because of the volcanic ash cloud.
 
Obama said he regretted being unable to attend the funeral.
 
"President Kaczynski was a patriot and close friend and ally of the United States, as were those who died alongside him, and the American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama said in a statement.
 
Poland, part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, is now a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally.
 

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Poland's biggest trade partner, also expressed regret at having to scrap her trip. But Germany's president and foreign minister joined the funeral after flying to Krakow from Berlin by helicopter.
 
Medvedev's presence was ironic, given that Kaczynski was a stern critic of what he called Russia's "imperialism" towards ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine. During his five years as president, Kaczynski never visited Moscow.
 
Kaczynski's plane crashed while heading to Katyn forest in western Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret police.
 
Wawel cathedral was the coronation site of virtually all of Poland's monarchs and the adjacent castle was the centre of government for five centuries until the end of the 16th century.
 
Some Poles have staged protest rallies and joined petitions on social media site Facebook against the decision to bury Kaczynski in such a hallowed spot.
 
Kaczynski was a polarising figure whose support levels had fallen to about 20 percent before his death. He had been expected to lose a presidential election due in the autumn and now likely to be held on June 20.
 
The protests were the first cracks in an otherwise remarkable display of national unity since the crash.

 

Date created : 2010-04-18

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