Body of Polish first lady returns home to tears, tulips; Parliament holds special session

By Monika Scislowska, AP
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tears as body of Poland’s first lady returns home

WARSAW, Poland — The body of Poland’s first lady was greeted with tears and tulips after being flown home from Russia on Tuesday, and Parliament held a special observance in memory of the president and lawmakers who killed in the plane crash.

Maria Kaczynska’s body, in a wooden casket draped with Poland’s white-and-red flag, arrived in a military CASA plane shortly after 10:30 a.m. at Warsaw’s Okecie airport. It was met by Kaczynska’s 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 silently by.

Kaczynska’s body was then ferried to the Presidential Palace in the back of a Mercedes-Benz hearse, just like her husband’s was Sunday. Even though Tuesday was a work day, thousands of Warsaw residents lined the route, gently lobbing bouquets of tulips and roses on top of the black hearse.

“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 and a real first lady.”

The bodies of the first couple are to lie in state in closed coffins in the Columned Hall of the Presidential Palace, where the president appointed and dismissed governments.

A state funeral is expected to be held Sunday, said Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz, the top lawmaker in the Polish senate. The location has yet to be decided.

The body of Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last president of Poland’s government-in-exile in London, will be brought back on Wednesday and his coffin will probably also be put on public display, Borusewicz said.

Kaczorowski’s family has asked that his coffin be placed in the smaller presidential palace of Belweder, some 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the main palace.

Investigators have suggested that human error may have been to blame in Saturday’s crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others, saying Monday there were no technical problems with the Soviet-made plane.

The Tu-154 went down while trying to land in dense fog at Smolensk in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including President Lech 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.

So far, 87 bodies have been recovered and 40 of them identified, Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said.

Associated Press Writer Marta Kucharska contributed to this report.

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