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Poland's First Couple Buried In Krakow

Poland's President Buried in Krakow
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Amid the sound of wailing sirens and ringing church bells, Poles paid their last respects to deceased President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, as they were laid to rest on April 18 in Krakow following an elaborate state funeral.

Acting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were among some 700 mourners assembled in the Gothic St. Mary's Basilica on Krakow's central square. The Kaczynskis' daughter, Marta, and the president's twin brother, Jaroslav, sat in the front row as Mozart's Requiem was played.

Tens of thousands of mourners also packed the streets to watch the service, which was broadcast live on giant television screens. Overall, police estimated that approximately 150,000 people flocked to Krakow to pay their last respects.

"Regardless of what people were thinking about late President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, right now everyone is united in mourning," says RFE/RL correspondent Anna Zamejc, who was in the crowd outside the basilica.

"There are thousands of people here at the market square in Krakow, but still it's very quiet. The square is packed with people but the atmosphere is actually very nice."

All Night Vigil

After the mass, the first couple were buried in Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, the final resting place for Poland's kings, poets, and statesmen. Their sarcophagus lies next to that of Jozef Pilsudski, the general who won independence for Poland in 1918 after more than a century of partitions.

Today's burial followed an all-night vigil at St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw. In the morning, the first couple's caskets were driven slowly through the capital, past places linked to Kaczynski's life, including City Hall, where he served as mayor of Warsaw, and a museum he championed on the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

They were then flown by military transport to Krakow, below the volcanic ash plume.

Mourners applauded, tossed flowers, and waved red and white flags as the cortege weaved through Krakow on route to the 13th century red-brick basilica in the city's old town.

The first couple and 94 other people, including some of the country's top dignitaries, died on April 10 when their plane crashed in fog close to the Russian city of Smolensk. The victims were on their way to a memorial service near Russia's Katyn forest, where thousands of Polish war prisoners were shot by the Soviet secret police 70 years ago.

'Layers Of Good'

The funeral marks the climax of a week of mourning over the tragedy that decimated Poland's political elite and traumatized the nation.

The travel chaos caused by a volcanic ash cloud hanging over Europe meant that several world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, and Britain's Prince Charles were not be able to attend Kaczynski's funeral.

Others, including leaders from Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine, were able to attend. Some European leaders, including those from Balkan and Baltic states, traveled to Krakow by car.

Saying the tragedy has given rise "to many layers of good between people and nations," Archbishop Dziwisz addressed Russian President Medvedev directly in his remarks to the congregation during the funeral mass.

"The sympathy and help we have received from Russian brothers has breathed new life into a hope for closer relations and reconciliation between our two Slavic nations," Dziwisz said. "I direct these words to the president of Russia."

The decision to bury Kaczynski at Wawel was not without controversy. Opponents of the move said that despite the national tragedy, the late president still does not belong in the company of some of the nation's most august figures.

compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports