Poland holds memorial service for plane crash victims

14:23, April 18, 2010      

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People gather at Pilsudski square in Warsaw, April 17, 2010. A public memorial service has begun for the 96 victims of last weekend's air crash that killed Poland's president, drawing tens of thousands of mouners to a square in the heart of Warsaw. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Hundreds of thousands of Poles gathered in Warsaw's main square here Saturday to mourn late President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and the 94 others killed in an April 10 plane crash.

The public ceremony in Pilsudski Square started at noon. Scores of people waved white-and-red Polish flags with black ribbons of mourning attached to them.

A military bugler sounded a funeral air in front of the standing crowd thronging the square, named after the country's 1918 independence leader and used as the site for national services.

An actor read out the name of each victim, starting with the first couple.

Relatives of the crash victims, including the president's twin brother and former prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the presidential couple's only child, daughter Marta, attended the service.

A Polish national flag flies in front of the stage for a commemoration ceremony for the plane crash victims at the Pilsudski square in Warsaw, April 17, 2010. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Others at the memorial included former President Lech Walesa, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and acting President Bronislaw Komorowski.

The memorial was on the first of two days of ceremonies in mostly Roman Catholic Poland and was to be followed by a funeral Mass for the first couple at St. John's Cathedral at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).

At the family's insistence, the funeral for the late president and his wife was expected to go ahead as planned on Sunday, despite drifting volcanic ash from Iceland that has shut Europe's airports and forced the cancellation of thousands of flights.

The first Polish couple and many of the country's military and state elite were killed when their plane crashed near Smolensk, Russia, while trying to land in thick fog ahead.

The delegation had planned to attend a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish army officers by Russian security forces in 1940.

A nun attends the commemoration service for late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and other plane crash victims at the Pilsudski square in Warsaw, April 17, 2010.

Tusk at the memorial service called the plane crash a disaster that was "the greatest tragedy in Poland since the war."

Earlier on Saturday, pedestrians and vehicles came to a standstill at 8:56 a.m. (0656 GMT) in Warsaw, the exact time a week ago when the presidential jet crashed in Russia and plunged Poland into a deep grief not seen since the death of Pope John Paul II five years ago.

Source: Xinhua


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