Page last updated at 20:02 GMT, Saturday, 10 April 2010 21:02 UK

Queen offers sympathy to Poland after president's death

Book of condolence at Polish Information Centre in London
A Polish centre in London has set up a book of condolence

The Queen has expressed her "deepest sympathy" to the Polish government and people after the death of President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash.

Gordon Brown said the whole world would be "saddened" and Tory leader David Cameron called it a "black day".

Scores died in the crash in Russia, including Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland's president in exile during the Communist years, who lived in London.

The Rev Canon Bronislaw Gostomski, from a Polish church in London, also died.

The aircraft was carrying more than 80 passengers, including some of the country's top military and civilian leaders, as well as the president's wife, when it came down in thick fog as it approached Smolensk airport, in western Russia.

The delegation was flying in from the Polish capital, Warsaw, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during World War II.

Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived the crash.

'Deeply upset'

In her message to the Polish government, the Queen spoke of the president's "long and distinguished public service".

She also paid tribute to the other victims, including Mr Kaczorowski.

"The deaths of many other of Poland's leading figures, including former President in Exile Kaczorowski, only serve to deepen this tragedy," she said.

President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria meeting the Queen in 2006
The president and his wife met the Queen in London in 2006

"I send my deepest sympathy to you and to the whole Polish nation."

The Prince of Wales, who went to Poland on a Royal visit last month, sent his condolences to Warsaw, saying he was "deeply upset".

Barbara Tuge-Erecinska, Polish ambassador to Britain, said the plane crash was "the biggest tragedy for Poland since the end of World War II".

"There's no Pole in Poland or worldwide who is not suffering and feeling this loss today," she said.

"We lost again our elite, we lost personal friends, we lost people we admire."

Wiktor Moszczynski, a former spokesman for the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, described Mr Kaczorowski as a "very venerable, highly respected figure in the Polish community in London and Poland".

He said the UK's Polish community was in shock, but events were "bringing people together".

'Difficult time'

"Whatever differences there have been in the past, people are remembering the positive things about the president."

Tributes for Rev Gostomski, the Polish president's personal chaplain and parish priest at St Andrew Bobola Polish Church in Shepherd's Bush, west London, were being paid at special services on Saturday evening.

Father Marek Reczek, a colleague, said Rev Gostomski was a popular figure who had been in office for eight years.

"It is a very difficult time for our parishioners. Many of them have been coming into the church to pray," he said. "They have been crying."

My deepest condolences for the Polish people. What a terrible tragedy.

Parishioner Jarek Rycak said Rev Gostomski was a hard-working, energetic priest, who would be difficult to replace.

"It's unbelievable how much he contributed to this community. It's a very big loss," he added.

A Polish scoutmaster who had worked with Rev Gostomski said: "When he used to walk in, like the scouting way, we used to give him three cheers because he helped us out a lot.

"He kept us all together as a parish. As part of the scouting community he was adored by a lot of young kids."

He added: "There has been over 500 people here [at the service] so it has been jam-packed."

There were also gatherings at the Polish Social and Cultural Centre, known as Posk, in Hammersmith, west London, where flowers were laid.

Szymon Nadolski said it did not matter if people supported the president, who had a right-wing stance on many issues.

'Utter shock'

"They are still our president and intellectuals," said the 30-year-old. "I think everybody will be united regardless of who they support."

Monika Skowronska, vice-chairman of the Polish Social and Cultural Association, said: "I'm in complete and utter shock. I am trying hard not to cry. People are just speechless."

Members of the Polish community in the UK have been e-mailing the BBC since the news broke.

Marcin, from London, said: "It is the biggest tragedy in the history of Poland, because so many very important people have died at the same time."

Brown pays tribute to Kaczynski

Many of the messages make reference to the purpose of the president's visit to Russia.

Maciej, also from London, said: "What makes this news more sad is that they were flying to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, which was such a blow to our nation."

The Katyn forest massacre was the mass murder of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals, carried out by Soviet forces in 1940.

Mr Brown broke off from campaigning in Scotland to pay tribute to the Polish president.

"I think the whole world will be saddened and in sorrow as a result of the tragic death in a plane crash of President Kaczynski and his wife Maria and the party that were with them," he said.

"We know the difficulties that Poland has gone through, the sacrifices that he himself made as part of the Solidarity movement."

Mr Cameron said he was a "very brave Polish patriot who stood up for freedom".

"He suffered hugely under communism and always stood up for his beliefs, and for his great faith in his country," he added.

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