Poland prepares for Kaczynski burial

The bodies of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were flown from Warsaw to Krakow today for burial among Polish kings and poets at a tradition-laden ceremony that will be bereft of many world leaders whose travel plans were paralysed by a plume of volcanic ash.

The bodies of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were flown from Warsaw to Krakow today for burial among Polish kings and poets at a tradition-laden ceremony that will be bereft of many world leaders whose travel plans were paralysed by a plume of volcanic ash.

The state funeral had been expected to draw numerous world leaders, but many were forced to cancel - including US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel - at the last minute because of the ever-expanding volcanic ash cloud that has enveloped Europe and closed nearly all of the continent's airports since Thursday.

Eight days after the Polish Air Force Tupelov 154 crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia, killing the first couple and 94 others, the Kaczynskis' coffins were flown by military transport from the capital after an all-night vigil at St John's Cathedral.

The bodies of the couple were driven slowly through Warsaw past places linked to Kaczynski's life, including city hall, where he served as mayor of Warsaw, and a museum he championed on the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Presidential Palace spokesman Jacek Sasin said the route was chosen for its symbolism as Kaczynski departs his native city for the last time.

The bodies were then placed on a military transport plane, which taxied slowly on the runway before taking off to Krakow. It flew below the volcanic ash plume.

The funeral Mass and burial begins this afternoon with a Mass conducted in Latin in the 13th-century St Mary's Basilica.

The bodies of the first couple will then be carried in a funeral procession across the picturesque Renaissance old town and up the Wawel hill, the historic seat of kings where a fortress wall encircles a castle and 1,000-year-old cathedral.

Last night scores of people flocked to a memorial at the base of Wawel hill to pay tribute to those who died.

Last Saturday's crash - which investigators have said was likely because of human error - plunged Poland into a deep grief not seen since the death of Pope John Paul II five years ago.

The plane went down in heavy fog after clipping a birch tree on approach to Smolensk, Russia. Those aboard had planned to attend a memorial for thousands of Polish army officers executed in 1940 by Josef Stalin's secret police.

The first couple will be laid to rest together in a sarcophagus made from Turkish alabaster in a crypt of the cathedral and it will be open to mourners after the ceremonies today.

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