Massive ceremony mourns dead from Polish air crash
Hundreds of thousands of Poles crowded into a square in central Warsaw yesterday for a memorial service honouring the victims of the Smolensk plane crash that claimed the lives of the Polish president, his wife and dozens of the nation's elite.
In a day of high emotion, air-raid and police sirens wailed across the city at midday for two minutes as Poles, some weeping, stood still in memory of the 96 people who died in the tragedy.
Earlier in the day the sirens had signalled the exact time, 8:56, when the aircraft carrying President Kaczynski had crashed as it approached Smolensk airport in western Russia.
A sombre procession of thousands upon thousands of mourners from all over Poland made their way to Pilsudski Square, a place of deep symbolic significance for Poles as it was there that Pope John Paul II delivered a sermon in 1979 that inspired them to rise up against communism.
"Things like this never happen, they are impossible. It is the greatest tragedy in the history of Poland since World War II," Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, told the assembled mourners.
"None of us can remember an incident when so many great and important people died in one tragic moment. The list of those who died comes from the whole of Poland, and that list is Polish history."
As the service progressed, many of the relatives of the deceased sitting near a specially built stage and altar wiped tears from their eyes.
In the front row a harrowed-looking Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother, sat ashen faced, while beside him Marta Kaczynska, Mr and Mrs Kaczynski's only child, struggled to contain her emotions.