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Poland in mourning

Warsaw, April 11 (Reuters): Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s coffin returned home to a stunned nation, a day after he and much of the country’s political and military elite perished in a plane crash in Russia.

Poland’s acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw and his daughter Marta were among those receiving the coffin, draped in the red and white national flag, at Warsaw’s military airport.

Tens of thousands of people stood in silence along the 10-km route taken by the hearse to the presidential palace where Kaczynski’s coffin was expected to lie on public view.

Church bells tolled as the hearse, with its police escort, reached the palace, whose entrance gate has turned into a shrine festooned with flowers, candles, Polish flags and crucifixes.

Millions of mourners across this staunchly Roman Catholic nation packed into churches all through the day to pray for the dead. At noon, Poles observed two minutes of silence.

The bodies of the other crash victims, who included Kaczynski’s wife Maria, the top brass of Poland’s armed forces and Opposition lawmakers, were sent to Moscow for identification and will return home in coming days.

Also in Moscow, Russian investigators were analysing evidence from the flight recorders. “The recordings that we have confirm there were no technical problems with the plane,” Alexander Bastrykin, head of the prosecutor-general’s powerful investigative unit, said.

Kaczynski’s ageing Tupolev plane crashed in thick fog near Smolensk in western Russia on Saturday, killing all 96 people on board.

Kaczynski had been planning to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish officers by Soviet forces in the nearby Katyn forest.

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