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Obituary: Lech Kaczynski

Lech Kaczynski in a photo from 8 April
Lech Kaczynski founded the Law and Justice Party with his twin, Jaroslaw

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who has been killed in a plane crash at the age of 60, was a controversial figure on the world stage.

But his right-wing stance on many issues found ready reception among many Poles, especially traditionalist and rural voters.

Throughout his political career, he was not afraid to appeal to populist sentiments. As mayor of Warsaw, he twice banned gay parades and spoke in support of reintroducing the death penalty.

He was elected as Poland's president in 2005 as candidate of the Law and Justice Party.

During the campaign, Mr Kaczynski insisted Poles needed a president who would stand up for their interests.

He said post-communist Poland, often called the "Third Republic", needed radical transformation into a "Fourth Republic", based on social justice and a strong state.

The Law and Justice party, which stresses the traditional values of the Roman Catholic Church, was founded by Mr Kaczynski and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, in 2001.

But they had already played an important role in shaping Poland's post-Communist identity. In the 1990 presidential election, they were key players in securing the victory of the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

Kaczynskis in charge

Lech Kaczynski, who was born in 1949, had followed his brother into the anti-government movement in the late 1970s and served as an adviser to the strike committee at the Gdansk shipyard during the August 1980 Solidarity-led protests.

But the brothers found themselves outside mainstream politics in the early 1990s after falling out with President Walesa.

LECH KACZYNSKI
Born in Warsaw in 1949
Arrested under martial law in 1981
Elected Warsaw Mayor in 2002
Elected president in October 2005

The relationship between the one-time allies in the fight against Communism soured further in recent years. In 2009, Mr Walesa sued President Kaczynski for alleging that he had actually spied for the Communist secret service in the 1970s.

In the wake of the 2005 election, Poland had two Kaczynskis holding the reins of power - Lech as president and, from 2006, Jaroslaw as prime minister.

Since 2007, however, President Kaczynski had to work with Donald Tusk, who was his defeated rival in the presidential poll two years earlier.

He asked Mr Tusk to form a government after the victory of his centre-right Civic Platform in elections in October 2007.

Under the Polish constitution, the president has fewer powers than the prime minister, but has a significant say in foreign policy.

It was at time a difficult relationship. Mr Kaczynski was a critic of Mr Tusk's liberal economic policies and often vetoed the government's bills.

'National tragedy'

In retrospect, the Kaczynski twins were perhaps destined to be prominent - on whatever stage. At the age of 12, they shot to fame as stars in the 1962 film Two Boys Who Stole The Moon.

There is no right or left today - there is no separation, no difference
Polish lower house speaker Bronislaw Komorowski on news of Lech Kaczynski's death

Their father was a World War II resistance fighter and it was from his tales of Polish heroism that Mr Kaczynski developed his keen sense of Polish nationalism.

Mr Kaczynski was married with one daughter. His wife was also killed in the plane crash, which happened near Smolensk in western Russia.

The two were travelling there as part of a delegation to take part in a commemoration of the 1940 Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles - including army officers and members of the intelligentsia - by Soviet troops.

As the news arrived that the president and scores of others had died, the speaker of Poland's lower house, Bronislaw Komorowski, said Poles were united in their grief in the face of a "huge national tragedy".

"There is no right or left today," he said. "There is no separation, no difference. We are together in our condolences to the families of those who have died."

"The Soviets killed Polish elites in Katyn 70 years ago," said former Polish president Lech Walesa. "Today, the Polish elite died there while getting ready to pay homage to the Poles killed there."

In late 2008 Mr Kaczynski had spoken about the risks of flying after his presidential plane suffered technical problems and then was caught in turbulence during a trip to Asia.

"Any flight brings with it a certain risk, but a very serious risk attaches to the responsibilities of a president, because it is necessary to fly constantly," he was quoted as saying at the time.



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