President McAleese to attend Kaczynski funeral

Wednesday 14 April 2010 22.20
Poland - Lech and Maria Kaczynski lying in state
Poland - Lech and Maria Kaczynski lying in state

President Mary McAleese is to represent Ireland at the state funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

The Taoiseach will attend a commemorative mass at St Audeon's church in Dublin celebrated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on Friday morning.

Brian Cowen has also written a letter of sympathy to Ireland's Polish community, which is published in Polish in today's Evening Herald.

President Kaczynski, the first lady, Polish military commanders, top opposition figures and the central bank governor were among 96 people who died in Saturday's plane crash in Russia.

Poland has arranged to hold a new presidential election in June.

Under the Polish constitution, interim president Bronislaw Komorowski, the parliament speaker, must announce the election date within two weeks of the president's death and the ballot must be held within 60 days of the election announcement.

Parliamentary chancellery chief Lech Czapla said earlier today that 13 or 20 June will be chosen for the election.

Mourners queued from early this morning to show their grief for Poland's first couple.

The line of people waiting to see the bodies of the Polish president and his wife Maria lying in state at the presidential palace in Warsaw stretched for more than 1km.

Today the Kremlin said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would attend the funeral.

US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will also travel to Wawel castle in Krakow, the resting place of kings and other major figures, for the late president's funeral.

A conservative nationalist Mr Kaczynski, who was in office since 2005, was a divisive figure at home and abroad, but the mood since his death has been one of grief across the political spectrum.

However, in a break with the national unity seen in Poland since Mr Kaczynski was killed, several hundred people gathered in Krakow last night in protest at the decision to lay him to rest there.

They chanted 'Not in the Wawel' and waved banners marked 'Is he fit to be a king?'

The bodies of 30 other crash victims are expected to be flown home later today.

A total of 64 bodies have now been identified from the crashed presidential jet, according to a Russian official.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has, meanwhile, personally taken charge of the crash probe and the country has made open displays of grief over the accident.

Russian investigators have pointed to pilot error, while air traffic controllers say the crew of Mr Kaczynski's ageing jet refused three times to heed advice to divert to another airport because of the fog.

The Russian controllers also suggested language barriers had contributed to the crash near the city of Smolensk.