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Polish president killed in crash, 132 reported dead; President’s wife among victims
WARSAW, APR 10 (IANS)
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Published on 11 Apr. 2010 12:36 AM IST
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Polish President Lech Kaczynski, a great admirer of India, was killed Saturday with his wife Maria and more than 90 others, including almost all his aides, when their aircraft crashed in foggy weather while landing in Russia, officials said.
The disaster, which plunged Poland into grief, occurred when the Russian-built Tupolev 154-M reportedly struck some trees, caught fire and broke up as it approached the airport in Smolensk city in western Russia. Earlier reports had placed the casualties at 132. The exact number of victims has not been officially announced.
The president and his delegation, which included Polish National Bank president Slawmir Skrzpek, was going to Russia to take part in an official ceremony in Katyn, where 20,000 Poles were slaughtered by Soviet forces during World War II.
The Katyn massacre was a major irritant between Poland and Russia. Kaczynski was reluctant to go there until the last day because he was not sure of getting a proper protocol from the Russian authorities.
Officials said that all the top officials of the Polish presidency seemed to have perished in the crash.
Elected the president in October 2005, Kaczynski was the mayor of Warsaw where he cut his political teeth with his missionary zeal. In an earlier meeting with IANS, the president had expressed his desire to visit India. He warmly received Indian President Pratibha Patil when she flew to Poland in April 2009.
He was a great admirer of Indian democracy and a major critic of China. He also had a soft corner for the Dalai Lama and always met him when the Tibetan spiritual leader came to Poland.
In Poland, the speaker of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, hurriedly arrived here from Gdansk to take charge as president till a new election is called. Prime Minister Donald Tusk rushed to Warsaw for an emergency meeting of the cabinet. President Kaczynski, along with his twin brother Jarosalw, the leader of PIS, the main opposition party, have been very active for the past 10 years in Polish politics.
In the beginning, both brothers were close to Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader. But within a few years they left Walesa after a bitter rift with him.
DPA adds: The dead included politicians, religious figures and anti-Communist icons. “(The plane) clipped the tops of the trees, crashed down and broke into pieces,” Russia-24 television network quoted the governor of the Smolensk region as saying.
The Russian television’s broadcast live footage showed that the plane’s wreckage scattered in a forest with parts of it still on fire. The governor of the Russian region of Smolensk confirmed that Kaczynski was on board the plane and had died, reported Interfax.
The plane reportedly struck trees as it approached the airport and caught fire. The flames have since been extinguished. Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash, which was recorded at 10.50 a.m. (0650 GMT).
On board were also Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish president in exile, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, vice-marshal of parliament, Wladyslaw Stasiak, head of the president’s chancellery, and Janusz Kurtyka, head of the Institute of National Remembrance, which investigates Nazi and Soviet crimes against Poles, reported the Polish Press Agency PAP.
Planned ceremonies in Katyn were called off. Attendees said they would instead pray for the victims of the plane crash.

 
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