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Poles pay respects to president, first lady

Thousands of grieving mourners toss flowers at a slow-moving hearse or joined an enormous viewing line at the presidential palace to pay their respects to Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife.
Image: Woman lays flowers on square near the Presidential Palace in Warsaw
A woman lays flowers on a square near the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on Tuesday.Petr Josek / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of grieving mourners tossed flowers at a slow-moving hearse or joined an enormous viewing line at the presidential palace to pay their respects Tuesday to Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife as their bodies lay in state.

Kaczynski and his wife Maria Kaczynska were among 96 people killed Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. Investigators are pointing to human error as the cause.

Mourners knelt, prayed and cried before the first couple's closed coffins in the Columned Hall of the palace, where the president appointed and dismissed governments. The line to get in swelled to over half a mile (1 kilometer) long but the mourners were not deterred.

"We will wait as long as it takes," said Alicja Marszalek, a retired telephone operator waiting with a friend. "We want to pay homage to them because they were wonderful people. He was a modest man, very well educated, intelligent and kind."

Polish television broadcast live images of mourners walking by the coffins. Many were families with children, parents and grandparents. Each coffin was flanked by a pair of soldiers, standing crisp and stonelike.

Tears, tulips
Earlier Tuesday, Kaczynska's body was greeted with tears and tulips after being flown home from Russia, and officials announced that the first couple will be buried Sunday in a state funeral at Krakow's Wawel Cathedral.

Stanislaw Kracik, Krakow province governor, said the presidential couple will receive a funeral at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) Sunday in the 1,000-year-old cathedral — the main burial site of Polish monarchs since the 14th century.

The last Polish leader killed in office, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, the exiled World War II leader who perished in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943, is also interred there.

Leaders expected for the funeral include U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Kaczynska's body, in a wooden casket draped with Poland's white-and-red flag, arrived in a military CASA plane at Warsaw's Okecie airport. It was met by her only child, Marta, and by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, her brother-in-law who was also the twin of the late president.

Her daughter knelt by the casket and wept as a Polish honor guard stood by.

Kaczynska's body was then ferried slowly to the Presidential Palace in the back of a black Mercedes-Benz hearse, just like her husband's was on Sunday. Thousands of Warsaw residents lined the route, gently lobbing bouquets of tulips and roses on top of the hearse.

'Tragedy for Poland'
"I'm here because it's such a tragedy for Poland," said Maja Jelenicka, 63. "I'm in despair. I feel as if I've lost a close relative. Maria Kaczynska was a wonderful woman, kind, with a heart of gold."

Parliament held a special observance in memory of the president and the 18 lawmakers killed in the plane crash. In the assembly hall, framed portraits of the lawmakers and flowers bedecked their now-empty seats.

The names of the victims were read out, and Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz, his voice breaking, declared the crash the "greatest tragedy in Poland's postwar history."

Investigators have suggested that human error may have been to blame in Saturday's crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others. The Tu-154 went down while trying to land in dense fog at Smolensk in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including Kaczynski and dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders.

They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane to attend a memorial in the nearby Katyn forest for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Josef Stalin's secret police.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday there was no explosion or fire on the plane and the engines were working normally.

Polish president is among 96 killed in plane crash

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Polish president is among 96 killed in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia on Saturday, killing 96.

"Judging by preliminary analysis of data from the black boxes, there was no explosion or fire aboard the plane, and the engines were working until the collision," Ivanov said in televised remarks.

The pilot had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk, and was advised by traffic controllers to land elsewhere — which would have delayed the Katyn observances. He was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36, and the co-pilot as Maj. Robert Grzywna, 36.

Traffic controller Anatoly Muravyev, part of the Russian team that handled the plane, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that the crew ignored their warnings about worsening weather at the Smolensk airport.

The crew "started landing with confidence and with no swerving," Muravyev was quoted as saying. "But then the traffic controllers had doubts (about the weather)."

He said the head controller three times ordered the plane to reattempt the landing and then advised the pilot to fly to another airport.

"The crew did not listen, although the controllers warned them about bad visibility and told them to get ready to fly to a reserve airport," he said.

Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polish prosecutors were still reviewing data from the flight recorders and would discuss their findings Thursday.

So far, 87 bodies have been recovered and 40 of them identified, he said.