Divided Poland marks anniversary of Russia crash

10th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Poland marked Sunday the one-year anniversary of a plane crash in Russia that killed president Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other high-profile Poles, amid bitter political divisions.

At 8:41 am (0641 GMT), the exact time of the tragedy in the western Russian city of Smolensk, a visibly emotional President Bronislaw Komorowski paid silent tribute to his predecessor and the 95 other victims at a memorial in a Warsaw church.

In a traditional mark of mourning and commemoration in deeply Catholic Poland, Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and other officials also placed candles at the foot of the memorial.

Further ceremonies were due later Sunday, including at a memorial in a Warsaw cemetery as well as a mass in the city's cathedral.

Underlining the deep political and personal divisions in Poland's establishment, the late president's identical twin and former premier, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, boycotted the official events.

His conservative opposition Law and Justice party (PiS), the twins' political machine, instead organised a day-long gathering outside Warsaw's presidential palace.

As hundreds of supporters held Polish flags aloft, Kaczynski laid a wreath before prayers were delivered through a public address system and the names of all the victims were reeled off.

A year ago, huge crowds had flocked to the palace to mourn the April 10 crash and the street outside turned into a field a candles.

But that mood of national unity now seems a distant memory.

Surveys show the vast majority of Poles believe the disaster has become a tool in a bitterly divided political scene.

After the crash, PiS lost its brake on Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform as his ally Komorowski beat Jaroslaw Kaczynski in a snap presidential race.

The anniversary of last year's crash comes just six months before a general election, with PiS trailing Civic Platform in polls.

Domestic infighting has been fuelled by anger over Russia's crash probe, which pinned the blame on the Polish pilots for trying to land the plane in fog.

Warsaw has complained of an alleged whitewash by the Russian air traffic controllers and about the shoddy state of Smolensk airport.

After Russia released the probe's findings in January, Jaroslaw Kaczynski called it a "mockery" and blamed the Tusk government for leaving Russia in charge of the investigation -- although international rules put the country where a crash occurs at the helm.

In a bitter twist to the disaster, the late Lech Kaczynski's delegation had been bound for a memorial ceremony in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk, for 22,000 captured Polish officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940.

© 2011 AFP

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