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Ash Flight Snafu Imperils Polish State Funeral

Friday, 16 Apr 2010 09:25 AM

WARSAW — While family members vowed the funeral will go on, Polish authorities said Friday they may delay the weekend burial of president Lech Kaczynski as a volcanic ash cloud threatened to disrupt the travel arrangements of dozens of world leaders.

The country closed most of its airspace, calling into question the attendance of US President Barack Obama and other heads of state at late Polish leader's burial in the southern city of Krakow on Sunday.

Polish presidential aide Jacek Sasin told Polish radio: "I think it's a very serious alternative which must be taken into consideration."

Poland's aviation agency said that the country's airspace would be closed from 0600 GMT until further notice, except for over Krakow and Rzeszow airports, both in the south.

"That means that aircraft cannot take off or land. Air traffic is only possible from Krakow-Balice airport and from Rzeszow airport," agency spokesman Grzegorz Hlebowicz said, cited by the PAP news agency.

The cloud spread over Poland late Thursday, causing authorities to shut down the north of the country's airspace.

Experts warned the fallout from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southeast Iceland, which covered the skies of northern Europe Thursday, could take several days to clear.

Kaczynski and 95 other people, mainly senior dignitaries, were killed Saturday when his jet crashed in thick fog in western Russia while taking a delegation to a memorial service for a World War II massacre.

Polish officials said Thursday that nearly 80 planes carrying world leaders were due to land at Krakow over a six-and-a-half hour window on Sunday morning ahead of the funeral of the Polish leader and his wife, Maria.

More dignitaries were also set to land at Pyrzowice, a airport near the city of Katowice, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Krakow.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU president Herman Van Rompuy are among a host of other European and world leaders set to attend.

Britain's Prince Charles and Vatican envoy Cardinal Anglo Sodano are also on the list of high-level participants.

The funeral is due to be held in the cathedral crypt of Krakow's Wawel castle, where Poland's past kings and national heroes are laid to rest.

The choice has sparked protests and a Facebook campaign by people opposed to Wawel as the place of burial of Kaczynski, a divisive figure in life due to his conservative, nationalist policies.

The row fractured the sense of national unity at the loss of the president and top figures including Poland's four most senior military commanders and the governor of the central bank.

Russian investigators said Thursday that pilot error was suspected in the plane crash near Smolensk in western Russia, following the first analysis of the presidential jet's black box flight recorders.

They said the pilots may not have been aware that a manoeuvre they tried to carry out, levelling out the plane to compensate for thick fog, made the type of plane, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154, accelerate its descent.

Polish authorities meanwhile said the recordings showed that the crew knew they were doomed after hitting trees while trying to land.

Kaczynski's delegation had been headed to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish officers were slaughtered by the Soviet secret police in 1940.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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WARSAW — While family members vowed the funeral will go on, Polish authorities said Friday they may delay the weekend burial of president Lech Kaczynski as a volcanic ash cloud threatened to disrupt the travel arrangements of dozens of world leaders.
flights,problems,ash,
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2010-25-16
Friday, 16 Apr 2010 09:25 AM
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