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Poland Marks Seven-Year Anniversary of Crash that Killed President

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Poland this month marked the seven-year anniversary of a plane crash in Russia that killed the President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady and 94 others. The president and the delegation were flying to Russia to pay tribute to Polish officers killed there by the Soviet secret police during World War II. The crash occurred as the plane was approaching the runway of the Smolensk military airport.

On 10 April, the Polish president, prime minister and top officials took part in commemorations marking seven years since a fatal presidential plane crash in western Russia. A traditional roll call of honour in front of the presidential palace in the Polish capital Warsaw was held on Monday at 8:41 AM, the exact time of the disaster on 10 April 2010. The event was attended by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the head of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. A series of commemorations were also held across the country.

Speaking in central Warsaw, President Andrzej Duda stated that the previous government, which was led by Civic Platform (PO) party, which is now in opposition, had failed to explain the causes of the disaster. He went on to say that the current government had a duty to uncover the truth about the tragedy.

The crash, which continues to be a source of controversy in the country, killed dozens of senior Polish government officials and military commanders. It occurred as pilots attempted to land a Soviet-made Tu-154 at a rarely used airport near Smolensk to take part in commemorations of thousands of Polish officers executed there by Soviet secret police in 1940.

The anniversary also comes as a new commission investigating the crash suggested on Monday that the Polish presidential plane was destroyed by an explosion. According to the Polish government commission, the plane probably disintegrated mid-air when explosives were detained on board – a theory that a member of a previous commission dismissed as “propaganda.” Commentary accompanying video material presented by the commission on Monday stated that “much indicates that on April 10, 2010, an explosion took place on board of the government Tupolev plane,” adding “as a result of the conducted experiments, we can say that the most likely cause of the explosion was a thermobaric charge initiating a strong shockwave.” The investigatory commission, which was created by Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, stated on Monday that a blast most likely tore the plane into pieces, killing all those on board just seconds before it hit the ground. It repeated allegations, which were first made in Warsaw earlier this month, that Russian air traffic controllers had deliberately set the plane on the wrong descent path. Polish prosecutors disclosed this month that they would press charges against two controllers. Moscow however has rejected the allegations.

The new commission also disclosed that besides large pieces of wreckage, there was a multitude of smaller fragments, a fact that could be explained by an explosion. The commission further disclosed that at least four victims of the crash had significant burns on their bodies, although they were found away from flames on the crash site. One of the plane doors penetrated the ground to a depth of one metre, suggesting that it had been travelling 10 times faster than the plane’s speed. The commission further noted that it had ordered a reconstruction of part of the TU-154 plane and blown it up with a thermobaric charge, adding that the damage resembled that done in the Russian crash.

Russia has so far refused to return the wreckage of the jet to Poland, citing its own continuing investigation. Last year, Polish prosecutors ordered that the coffins of the crash victims be reopened in order to check for traces of explosives. Earlier this month, prosecutors disclosed that this process will continue until next year.

A member of the previous Polish official commission to investigate the Smolensk crash, Maciej Lasek, has dismissed the findings that were published on Monday, stating that they ware “illusions presented by people who had never investigated air crashes before.” Lasek told private broadcaster TVN24 that “this is propaganda aimed at strengthening the faith…in hypothetical causes of this accident.” Lasek was the head of the stat body to investigate air crashes from 2012 until he was dismissed from the post by the current government last year. The earlier commission, which had been formed by the previous government, blamed mistakes by the Polish pilots and Russian air traffic controllers for the crash. A Russian report into the crash also blamed the poles.

Last month, the PiS government accused European Council President Donald Tusk, who was Polish prime minister at the time of the crash, of working with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to harm Polish interests following the plane crash. Tusk has denied this.