News / Europe

Poles Mourn Loss of Their President and Political Leaders

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Poland has begun a week of official mourning, following the death of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 others, including the country's top military officials, in a plane crash in western Russia on Saturday.  

Poles again lined up in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Monday, amid a sea of flowers and small candle-lit lamps.  They came to pay their last tribute.

Tens of thousands came out on Sunday, as the coffin bearing the body of President Lech Kaczynski was brought back to lie in state here.  Hundreds of mourners were here during the night for a candle-light vigil.

There is a sense of shock, disbelief and sadness.

One woman, who spoke with VOA, could not hold back her tears.

"This was our president, representing our country and we personally voted and chose him," she said. "Thank you Lord that we had the chance to have such a president."

But, even those who disagreed with President Kaczynski's political agenda came to mourn.

MOURNER: "Not everyone liked our president, but I think that everybody felt some emptiness when they heard about what happened."

PACE: "What do you think this means for your country?"

MOURNER: "We had in our history so many tragic events that I think we rise again and everything will be fine.  But, now we can think about those people who died and we can pray for them and their souls."

President Kaczynski, his wife Maria, the country's top military leaders and other public figures were killed when their plane crashed in heavy fog while attempting to land in Smolensk, in western Russia.  They were in Russia to attend a memorial service for 22,000 Polish military officers and others executed by the Soviet secret police during World War II.

An investigation is underway into the cause of Saturday's crash.  Russian officials have said the pilot of the Polish presidential plane ignored orders from air traffic control not to land because of bad weather.

Messages of condolences have poured in from around the world.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington Sunday that words are inadequate to describe the tragedy.  Russia is observing a day of mourning, as families of those killed in the crash arrived to help identify the remains of their loved ones.

The speaker of the Polish Parliament has taken over as acting president until a new elections are held.  The Polish constitution mandates that a new election date be announced within two weeks.  The election must then take place within two months after that.

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