Poland marks first anniversary of president’s plane-crash death

church bells rang out across Poland yesterday to mark the exact minute one year ago that President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others were killed in a plane crash in Russia.

Poles also filled churches and cemeteries and a large crowd gathered in front of the presidential palace, where Kaczynski and his wife Maria lived until their deaths in the crash near Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010.

The crowd fell still at 8.41am local time and sirens wailed in central Warsaw while church bells pealed elsewhere.

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Earlier, the loved ones of many victims gathered for a private Mass at Warsaw’s airport, the scene of some of last year’s most painful scenes, as 96 flag-draped coffins returned there over several days last year.

At the time, the country experienced a short period of national unity amid the shock of losing the president, first lady and many military and civilian leaders. The disaster, however, quickly deepened political and social divisions in the country, and in a sign of that, separate commemorative events were held yesterday.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Bronislaw Komorowski and other politicians placed candles at a memorial plaque to the victims in a Warsaw military church. But Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, marked the anniversary separately, placing a large wreath in front of the presidential palace.

Kaczynski and many of the others killed belonged to the nationalist conservative party Law and Justice, which Jaroslaw Kaczynski heads. That camp now blames Tusk’s government for selling out Poland’s interests by allowing Russia to lead the main investigation into the crash. Earlier this year the Russian investigators concluded that Poland bore full responsibility for the crash, sparking outrage in Poland.

Late last night hundreds marched past the presidential palace chanting Kaczynski’s name. A large banner accused Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of being a murderer and Tusk of being a traitor.