Poland Buries President While World Mourns From Afar The funeral and burial of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and first lady Maria is going ahead as planned Sunday, despite the absence of many world leaders who were unable to reach Krakow due of a plume of volcanic ash that has paralyzed air travel across much of Europe. Host Liane Hansen speaks with NPR's Eric Westervelt from Krakow.

Poland Buries President While World Mourns From Afar

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

Thats the scene at the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and First Lady Maria, which went ahead as planned today, despite the absence of many world leaders. They were unable to reach Krakow because of a plume of volcanic ash which has paralyzed air travel across much of Europe. Kaczynski and his wife were among 96 people killed, including many of Poland's military and political elite, in a plane crash last Saturday.

Coming up, whats in store for Polands upcoming election.

But first, to NPR's Eric Westervelt, who is in Krakow. And, Eric, President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and others couldnt make it to Krakow because of that ash cloud. Tell us more about the decision to proceed with the state funeral as scheduled.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, the family wants to proceed, saying this is, you know, about closure, this is about mourning, this is for Poland. So, despite the fact that so many world leaders, Liane, simply can't attend - I mean, the list really shrunk dramatically overnight from, as you mentioned, President Obama to, you know, Britain's Prince Charles, the prime ministers of Canada and Spain and really a long list of many delegations said they simply couldnt reach the city because of the ash cloud. But it will continue and the funeral will go ahead.

HANSEN: The president and the first lady, I understand, will be buried in Wawel Castle and that decision was controversial. What do you know about that?

WESTERVELT: Well, to many people this place is venerated and seen by some Poles as sacred ground. It's reserved for kings and poets and the founders and heroes of Polish history. And some are saying it's just not appropriate to bury the president and first lady here. Some Poles I talked to here in Krakow said, sure, give him a full state funeral with full honors, but dont bury him among the most revered figures in Polish history.

But it appears that, you know, that controversy is dying down as people are coming together today, you know, to mourn their president.

HANSEN: You mentioned closure. And given that so many government officials were lost in that plane crash, as well, how do you think the country - people are coping? How are they weathering thins crisis?

WESTERVELT: Well, it's been a full week of mourning now and the streets of Warsaw have been filled with people coming to pay their respects, and to view the coffin and place flowers there. And now in Krakow, thousands of Poles are turning out. It's brought the country together in a way that probably hasnt happened since the death of Pope John Paul II.

And I think ordinary Poles, Liane, you know, give the government high marks for how theyve handled everything. There's been the controversy, as we mentioned, about where he'll be buried. There's been this unforeseen ash cloud thats thrown a monkey wrench into the funeral plans. But they see that, you know, the government has weathered this well, that things have gone on as planned. And they give the government some high marks for that.

Many Poles see today's funeral and the attendance - or at least the attempted attendance of so many world leaders - as a sign of respect and solidarity and they appreciate it.

HANSEN: NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's in Krakow, Poland. Eric, thank you very much.

WESTERVELT: Thank you, Liane.

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