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Leaders miss funeral for Poland's first couple

Ash cloud from Iceland volcano mars attendance at elaborate state funeral for president killed in plane crash.

Inside the medieval St. Mary’s basilica, foreign and domestic dignitaries crowded in to attend a mass by Stanislaw Dziwisz, the cardinal of Krakow, assisted by dozens of purple-clad bishops.

Outside, more than 100,000 sombre onlookers watched the ceremonies on wide-screen televisions set up in the Krakow market square.

After the mass, the caskets were placed on artillery carriages pulled by green Humvees to the nearby Wawel castle, where the Kaczynskis were buried in crypts containing the graves of Polish kings, queens and national heroes as a 21-gun salute sounded.

“It’s difficult to put the last week into words, this has been a dramatic time for me and for the country,” said Jacek Barburski, a heavyset man wearing a blue suit, as he watched slow-stepping soldiers slowly march out of the town square ahead of the caskets.

The surprising decision to bury Kaczynski in the Wawel crypts caused enormous controversy in Poland, fraying the national unity that had enveloped the country as soon as it became clear that the air disaster had deprived Poland of its president and many other leaders. Opponents felt that Kaczynski, who did not have a successful presidency, was not worthy of the honor simply because he had died in an accident in a historically significant place. But many of those in Sunday’s crowd were pleased.

“He was an excellent president — his values were mine,” said Jadwiga Daszowska, holding a large red and white Polish national flag adorned with a black ribbon of mourning.

Although the official period of mourning is over, Polish life will still be dominated by funerals for the next week or two. As well, 21 of the dead are still in Moscow as their remains have not been positively identified due to the extreme forces that ripped apart the Polish Tu-154 airliner as it plunged into the ground just short of the runway in Smolensk.