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13 Apr, 2010 07:05

Poland pays last tribute to its president

Thousands of people in Poland are paying their respects to the late President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria as they lie in state at the presidential palace in the capital of the country.

The Polish leader and his spouse were among 96 people killed Saturday in a plane crash en route to the Russian city of Smolensk.

They will be buried on Sunday in Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, the historic resting place of Polish monarchs and former leaders since the 14th century.

All those who wish to say their last farewell to the couple have until Wednesday morning to do so.

The square in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw is lit up by thousands of candles left by grieving citizens.

People have been queuing for hours on Tuesday to get inside.

The nearby street cannot fit all those who want to say goodbye to the late Polish leader and his wife. Screens showing what is going on inside the palace have been installed around Warsaw for those who will not be able to come there in person.

Among the mourners who came to pay their last respects were Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother, as well as other family members, friends and country’s officials.

The coffin with the body of the president’s wife arrived in Warsaw from Russia earlier on Tuesday.

After a short ceremony, Maria’s coffin was escorted through the main streets of the capital to the palace. People threw flowers at the procession. As the escort approached the palace, the crowd started applauding. Many in Poland say Maria Kaczynski was very much loved by the Polish people and was a respected political figure.

When the coffin with the body of Lech Kaczynski was taken to the palace two days earlier, the atmosphere was slightly different. People first stood in silence and then started singing the national anthem.

Kaczynski’s plane crashed on Saturday while heading to Katyn to commemorate the victims of the Katyn Massacre. There were 96 people aboard, including the country’s political, military and religious elite. Everybody onboard died in the disaster.

The president himself was due to say in his speech at Katyn for the 70th anniversary: “For a long time, Katyn was a wound in Polish history that spoiled the relationship with Russia for several decades. But fortunately, the wound has healed. And we, as Poles, appreciate what the Russians have done for it. And we are not going to stop on this path.”

Even though not everybody shared the approach of Lech Kaczynski, who seemed to have overcome the old argument between Russia and Poland, today Poles are not divided into political supporters or opponents. Instead, the whole of Poland is united in grief.