Polish President Lech Kaczynski to be buried Sunday in Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poland’s president to be buried Sunday in Krakow

WARSAW, Poland — The body of Poland’s first lady was greeted with tears and tulips after being flown home Tuesday from Russia, and officials announced that she and her husband will be buried Sunday in a state funeral at Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral.

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

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 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.

“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 lying in state in closed coffins in the Columned Hall of the Presidential Palace, where the president appointed and dismissed governments.

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.”

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 also be put on public display, Borusewicz said.

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.

Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster cited Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying there was no explosion or fire aboard the plane before it crashed and that the engines were working until the crash.

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.

Russian traffic controllers said the crew refused to follow their recommendations, a popular Russian daily reported.

Traffic controller Anatoly Muravyev, part of the 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 re-attempt 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.

Associated Press Writer Marta Kucharska in Warsaw and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.

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