Poland holds tribute for dead president

Poland has held a two-minute
tribute, with church bells and police sirens, to honour President Lech
Kaczynski and 95 others killed in a jet crash in Russia.

Thousands of Poles have been
attending church services and leaving flowers and written condolences across
the country.

The president, military chiefs and
MPs were due to attend a memorial for a World War II massacre when their plane
crashed near Smolensk on Saturday.

Russian officials say the pilots
were warned that they were flying too low.

Mr. Kaczynski’s body is due arrive
in Warsaw later, as the country begins a week’s mourning.

The president’s twin brother
Jaroslaw, the country’s former prime minister, travelled to Russia to help
identify his body.

The brothers’ strong nationalist,
conservative agenda divided opinion in Poland, but the BBC’s Adam Easton in
Warsaw says the president’s supporters and opponents have joined together in
paying tribute to him.

Boguslaw Staron, a 70-year-old from
Warsaw, described Mr. Kaczynski as “a great patriot”.

“He taught Poles how to
respect our traditions, how to fight for our dignity, and he made his sacrifice
there at that tragic place,” he said.

Poles gathered in town squares and
in the streets at midday (1000 GMT) and stood silently to mark the tragedy, as
church bells rang and emergency sirens wailed around them.

The president had been flying to
Russia along with his wife, the heads of the army and navy, MPs and senior
historians to mark 70 years since Soviet forces massacred more than 20,000
Poles near Katyn.

Russia has declared Monday a day of
mourning and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who visited the crash site
with Polish counterpart Donald Tusk, said he would oversee the inquiry.

Russian and Polish investigators
have recovered the flight-data recorders and are carrying out a joint inquiry.

They are looking into the
possibility that pilots ignored warnings that they were approaching Smolensk
too low.

Experts have also suggested that
the age and condition of the Polish president’s Soviet-era Tupolev 154 plane
could have played a part in the accident.

Witnesses have described seeing the
plane’s wing hitting treetops in thick fog before it came down in a forest.

Mr Kaczynski was a controversial
figure in Polish politics.

He was active in the Solidarity
movement that helped bring an end to Communist rule, but later fell out with
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

He advocated traditional Catholic
values, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare
programmes.

As president, he held fewer powers
than the prime minister but retained a significant say in foreign policy. He
could veto new laws and frequently blocked government reforms.

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