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Polish President, Lawmakers Die In Jet Crash

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Polish President, Lawmakers Die In Jet Crash

Europe

Polish President, Lawmakers Die In Jet Crash

Polish President, Lawmakers Die In Jet Crash

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Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died in a plane crash in western Russia early Saturday. Host Scott Simon talks to NPR's David Greene about the tragedy.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died in a plane crash in western Russia earlier today. NPR's Moscow correspondent David Greene is on the line with us. David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what happened? I gather there was thick fog in western Russia.

GREENE: That seems to be the case. This really is a stunning tragedy. The reports we have so far are that 96 people died. There were no survivors when this plane carrying the president and presidential delegation was coming in to land at an airstrip in Smolensk, which is a city a few hours to the northwest of Moscow in western Russia.

The plane went down just over a mile or so before coming to the runway. As you said, the weather was pretty bad and Russian television has been showing nonstop footage of the crash scene. And the plane was just totally broken apart. I mean, there are pieces of it and the wheels and tail and other pieces of the plane just sort of scattered about in the forests right near this airport.

SIMON: And give us some idea, David, about the loss to the Polish leadership. Who are some of the officials that have died now?

GREENE: It's quite a list. The president's wife was on the plane, the army chief of staff, the national bank president, a deputy foreign minister. So, it was a top-level delegation.

The president was on his way to an anniversary of the death of about 20,000 Poles during World War II in western Russia, so he was bringing a lot of people, including we understand some of the family of some of these Polish people who were killed 70 years ago. This is when Soviet forces killed a lot of Poles in a massacre that was known as the Katyn massacre.

And this was the anniversary that the president was going to attend. And we understand that people were waiting there at the anniversary site. They had Polish flags waving, and when they learned of this, obviously, you can imagine what the scene was like: a lot of people weeping at the news.

SIMON: And what happens with the political vacuum now left in Poland?

GREENE: Well, from what we've heard, it seems like there's just utter shock in Warsaw right now. The government has come out and said that there will be an election. The president was going to seek a second term this fall. They've announced an election. The acting president, they have announced, is the head of the lower parliament. So, there is a leader in place.

But the reports we're getting from Warsaw are there are people just beginning to gather around the presidential palace. There are church services being hastily arranged to honor the president. So, I think the scene in Warsaw is one of just utter shock at the moment.

SIMON: David, we've reached you in Kyrgyzstan where you've been reporting on a coup that occurred there this week. What are conditions there like now?

GREENE: Somber also, I have to say, Scott. There was a large memorial service, a mass burial for a number of victims of some very bloody protests in the streets of the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. Just a few days ago, snipers were on top of the presidential headquarters firing at anti-government protestors. It's been a pretty tragic scene here.

Things are getting back to normal, but, again, a somber mood here as well, as people were in the hills with music and with Muslim prayer burying a lot of these protestors who were gunned down this week.

SIMON: NPR's David Greene in Kyrgyzstan. Thanks so much.

GREENE: Thank you, Scott.

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