Polish president and senior officials killed in plane crash
Poland has declared a week of national mourning as a shocked nation struggles to come to terms with yesterday's plane crash that claimed the lives of its president, his wife and dozens of the country's political and military elite.
The aircraft carrying President Lech Kaczynski crashed as it approached Smolensk airport in western Russia. Witnesses said that the flight slammed into the ground and exploded after clipping some trees as it came in to land.
Russian authorities said that all 97 aboard perished.
The 59-year-old president had been travelling to Russia to take part in official commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of a massacre of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Union.
Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, described the crash as the "most tragic event in Poland's post-war history".
"I want to express my condolences to the family of President Kaczynski, his daughter, his mother, granddaughter, brother, and all the families who lost their lives in Smolensk," he said.
Lech Walesa, a political adversary of the late president for many years, made clear his sense of shock.
"The Soviets killed Polish elites in Katyn 70 years ago. Today, the Polish elite died there while getting ready to pay homage to the Poles killed there," he said.
President McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen led Irish tributes to the late Polish president. "This shocking news will cause immense sadness to the people of Poland to whom I convey my heartfelt sympathy and that of the Irish people," said Mrs McAleese.
US President Barack Obama was also quick to express his sadness over the death of a man who had been a steadfast supporter of American foreign policy.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, put aside his country's fraught relationship with Poland. "I offer my deepest, truest condolences to the Polish people, feelings of compassion and support for the relatives and loved ones of those killed," he said.
Under the Polish constitution, Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of parliament, has become acting head of state.
Along with the president, the crash claimed the lives of the head of the armed forces, the head of the Polish national bank, the deputy foreign minister and a number of the army's senior commanders.
The president, a dominant force in Polish politics over the past 10 years, was due to contest a presidential election in October.
Acting president Komorowski has 14 days to declare a new election date.