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Plane crash upends Polish election

The death of President Lech Kaczynski could make all the difference on Sunday.

“There are moments in history which can change everything, which can change the course of history,” he said in a televised address to Russia. “A great tragedy happened on the 10th of April. The outpouring of commiseration and sympathy from millions of Russians was noted by Poles. Noted and appreciated.”

In a leading German paper, Kaczynski called for greater Polish-German cooperation.

In his public appearances he has cut himself off from the radical anti-communist past; where he once compared his political opponents to communist era police thugs, he now calls for an end to conflict between Poles.

The new Kaczynski has proved to be much more popular with voters than the old model. He has steadily ascended in opinion polls, with most now showing him with the support of more than a third of the electorate, and his support continues to edge up.

Komorowski is still far ahead, although he has fallen below the 50 percent needed to win the first round of the election. In the event that no candidate gets a majority, a second round will be held on July 4 between the top two vote getters. It appears certain that the eight minor candidates will be knocked out and Kaczynski will face off against Komorowski for the country's top job.

Komorowski's main campaign pledge is that he will work closely with the government, which comes from the same party he does, and will end the obstructionism that had been a characteristic of Lech Kaczynski's presidency. Kaczynski argues for the need to defend against a monopoly of power by Civic Platform.

The outcome of the election could also affect Poland-United States relations. Kaczynski is instinctively very pro-American, seeking to balance the weight of Brussels and the European Union with a close security relationship with the U.S.

Civic Platform, like almost all Polish political parties, is also pro-American, but its view of the U.S. is more nuanced. The long-standing irritant of the U.S. refusal to eliminate visas for Polish travelers rankles the government, and Donald Tusk, the prime minister, was very annoyed when the U.S. administration dropped its plans to build a missile defense shield in central Europe.

Komorowski has said that if elected he will begin procedures for setting the conditions for Poland's eventual exit from Afghanistan, where the 2,000-strong Polish contingent has suffered 18 deaths.