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Poland struggles to come to terms with death crash

Last Updated: Monday, April 12, 2010 - 10:50

Warsaw: Poland struggled on Monday to come to terms with its worst peacetime tragedy, as relatives braced to identify bodies including the first lady`s and mourners waited to see the late president lying in state.

Two days after Saturday`s disaster claimed the lives of President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, sending shockwaves across Poland and beyond, the ex-communist European Union nation of 38.5 million people was still reeling.

Echoing the mass gatherings last seen when Poles honoured their native son Pope John Paul II on his death in 2005, tens of thousands gathered spontaneously at the weekend to pay tribute to Kaczynski.

"What else can we do but pay tribute to him, just be here, honour his memory, and share the pain of his family and the pain of the other families who`re suffering," said mourner Maria Kuczynska, her eyes welling up. Grieving Poles line streets as president`s body comes home

Kaczynski`s body was flown back from Russia on Sunday, with the hearse travelling slowly along the 12-kilometre (eight-mile) route from the airport to the presidential palace as mourners of all generations looked on. Profile: Kaczynski, from child star to Polish President

"I saw the president`s coffin, covered with a red and white Polish flag," said 10-year-old Witek, who waited for two hours. "I made a sign of the cross, like my mother told me".

The body is to lie in state for Poles to pay their last respects on Tuesday. No date has been set for Kaczynski`s funeral.

The 95 other bodies have been taken from Smolensk to Moscow, where relatives headed on Sunday.

"Only 14 bodies will be identifiable without problems," Polish Health Minister Ewa Kopacz told the rolling news channel TVN24. "Ten others could be identified thanks to distinguishing marks."

For the remainder, DNA tests will be needed, she added.

Some mourners said they were saddened that the body of first lady Maria Kaczynska, 59, did not return together with that of her husband.

"I`d have thought there`d be two coffins, the president`s and his wife Maria Kaczynska`s. They were always together in life, and I think the president would have wanted his wife to be with him even on this journey," said Zuzanna Skarzewska. The Kaczynskis wed in 1978.

Kaczynski`s populist nationalism often made him a divisive figure at home and elsewhere in the European Union, which Poland joined in 2004. But the nation has united in grief.

His Polish official plane clipped trees as it tried to land in foggy weather on Saturday morning in Smolensk, western Russia on the way to a memorial for victims of a World II massacre. There were no survivors.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, April 12, 2010 - 10:50

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