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Page last updated at 09:04 GMT, Sunday, 11 April 2010 10:04 UK

Poland mourns President Lech Kaczynski after jet crash

Crowds sang the Poland's national anthem at the presidential palace

Church services are being held across Poland to start a week of mourning for President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, killed in a jet crash in Russia.

Floral tributes and written condolences have been laid at churches in Warsaw, and a two-minute silence is planned.

The president, military chiefs, MPs and cultural figures were due to attend a memorial for a World War II massacre when their plane crashed near Smolensk.

Russian officials say pilots ignored warnings that they were flying too low.

Polish officials said Mr Kaczynski's body would arrive back in the country in the afternoon.

Tree collision

Russia has declared Monday a day of mourning and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who visited the crash site with Polish counterpart Donald Tusk, said he would oversee the investigation into the crash.

"Everything must be done to establish the reasons for this tragedy in the shortest possible time," he said.

Lech Kaczynski, file image

Earlier in the week, Mr Putin and Mr Tusk had attended a memorial for the victims of the 1940 Katyn massacre.

Mr Putin has played a leading role in admitting Soviet culpability in the massacre, when thousands of Poles were killed by Soviet secret police, and this year was the first time that Russia had held memorials.

Mr Tusk, who returned to Russia on Saturday along with the late president's twin brother Jaroslaw, described the crash as the most tragic event of the country's post-World War II history.

Witnesses said the plane approached Smolensk air base with its left wing pointing to the ground. It clipped trees as it came down and crashed, scattering debris across a forested area.

The deputy head of Russia's air force said the pilots had ignored repeated requests from air traffic controllers to divert the flight to another airport to avoid the heavy fog around Smolensk.

About 1.5km (0.9 miles) from the air base, air-traffic controllers noticed the jet was below the scheduled gliding path, said Lt Gen Alexander Alyoshin.

Ground control "ordered the crew to return to horizontal flight, and when the crew did not fulfil the instruction, ordered them several times to land at another airport," he said.

"Nonetheless the crew continued to descend. Unfortunately this ended tragically."

The Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed that 96 people were on board the flight, after Russian officials had earlier said 97 people had been killed.

Nation united

Russia's Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said both of the plane's flight information recorders had been found and were being examined.

KATYN MASSACRE
Soviet secret police shoot dead more than 20,000 Polish prisoners-of-war, drawn mainly from the political, military and cultural elite
For 50 years, Soviet authorities blame Nazis for slaughter
In 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admits Soviet responsibility
Vladimir Putin's invitation to memorial seen as attempt to resolve issue, which has continued to blight Polish-Russian relations

As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.

They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and members of parliament.

"We are completely devastated and shocked," Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the BBC.

"People have just been to church, to a Mass, people are crying."

Prime Minister Tusk said the business of government would continue.

"Today in the face of such a drama our nation stays united," he said in a televised address.

"There is no division into left and right, differences of views don't matter. We are together in the face of this tragedy."

He said he would, according to Poland's constitution, set the date for a presidential election after consulting with political parties.

The parliamentary speaker, Bronislaw Komorowski, has now become the acting president.

Previous scares

The president's Tupolev 154 was a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20 years old.

The twin brother of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski visits the crash site

The BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes.

Mr Kaczynski himself had suffered scares while using the plane in late 2008, when problems with the aircraft's steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

But the head of Russia's Aviakor aviation maintenance company told Russian TV the plane was airworthy, after his plant fully overhauled it in December.

World leaders including Mr Putin, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Mr Kaczynski, who as president had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics.

He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.

Map of crashed flight



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