Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iceland Volcano Ash Keeps Obama, Others from Attending Polish President's Funeral

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iceland Volcano Ash Keeps Obama, Others from Attending Polish President's Funeral

Article excerpt

President Obama and other world leaders were prevented from traveling to see Polish President Lech Kaczynski's funeral in Krakow today due to the cloud of ash hanging over Europe after the Iceland volcano.

One week after the tragic plane crash in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and a number of senior political and military leaders died, a mourning Poland is honoring its leader.

The president's funeral took in the country's historical site, the Royal Wawel Castle in Krakow, where Polish kings and key statesmen have been buried, but ash from the Iceland volcano continues to ground planes over Europe, preventing many world leaders from paying their respects in person.

President Obama's Sunday visit to Poland was canceled at the last minute due to the volcanic ash cloud that has paralyzed Europe's air traffic. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and other guests have announced their absence at the ceremony for the same reason.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, however, managed to get there."The tragedy of eight days ago and the sympathy and help extended by the Russians in these days give us hope for better relations between our two great nations," said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz during the funeral. "I direct those words to [Mr. Medvedev]."

A big loss

The loss of a large part of its political class has been a major blow to Poland, a former communist country which joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999 and has been a European Union member state since 2004.

Poland was to hold presidential elections this fall, when Mr. Kaczynski's first term would have come to an end. But interim President Bronislaw Komorowski set the election's date for June 20. And the political significance of the tragedy should not be underestimated.

"It is clear that the accident has already had an impact on Poles' voting behavior," says Grzegorz Makowski, a senior analyst with the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank. "Recent polls show that the percentage of undecided voters has increased to 50 percent. With the death of both president [Kaczynski] and left-wing candidate Jerzy Szmajdzinski, who was also on board of the plane, a large part of the voters seems to have become more volatile in its choices."

Earlier this year, Mr. Komorowski had been chosen the ruling center-right Civic Platform's candidate for the election, where he would have run against president Kaczynski. The latter's right-wing Law and Justice party has remained in opposition since 2007.

But Kaczynski's death has changed the political landscape, forcing all remaining candidates to revamp their strategies.

"[Komorowski's] staff had previously wanted to focus the campaign on their candidate's contestation of president Kaczynski's policies. …

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