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Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and scores of others have been killed in a plane crash in Russia.
Polish and Russian officials said no-one had survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk’s airport in thick fog.
Poland’s army chief, Central Bank Governor, MPs and leading historians were among more than 80 passengers.
They were flying in from Warsaw to mark 70 years since the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces. The BBC’s Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says the crash is a catastrophe for the Polish people.
He says Prime Minister Donald Tusk was reportedly in tears when he was told. Tusk, who runs the day-to-day business of government, has called an emergency meeting of ministers.

A government spokesman said that according to the constitution there would be an early presidential election, and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, would become acting president. The Russian emergencies ministry told Itar-Tass news agency the plane crashed at 10.56 Moscow time (06.56 GMT). Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufiev told Russian TV that no-one had survived.
“As it was preparing for landing, the Polish president’s aircraft did not make it to the landing strip,” he said.
“According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces. There are no survivors in that crash.”
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said it could be assumed with “great certainty” that no-one had survived.

“We still cannot fully understand the scope of this tragedy and what it means for us in the future. Nothing like this has ever happened in Poland,” Paszkowski said. It is unclear how many people were on board. Polish officials said the delegation was 88-strong, while local officials said 96 people had been killed. Russian investigators had earlier said there were 132 people on the plane. Russian media carried claims that the plane’s crew were at fault for the crash.

“The pilot was advised to land in Minsk, but decided to land in Smolensk,” said Andrei Yevseyenkov, a Smolensk regional government spokesman.
The president was flying in a Tupolev 154, a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20-years-old.
Our correspondent says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes. As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.
They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, Central Bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek and deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer. World leaders including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Kaczynski, who had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics. He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.
(BBC News)

Kyrgyzstan mourns uprising ‘heroes’

Thousands of mourners have turned out in Kyrgyzstan’s capital to honour the more than 70 people killed in Wednesday’s violent uprising that forced the country’s president to flee.
The country’s new self-proclaimed interim government organised funeral and memorial services on the outskirts of Bishkek, the capital, on Saturday, during a second day of mourning.
The services came as the interim government offered Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the ousted Kyrgyz president, safe passage out of the country if he agrees to officially resign his post.
Roza Otunbayeva, the leader of the interim administration, told Al Jazeera that her government had started criminal proceedings against the ousted president’s allies.
She said that the interim government was “pretty much in control of the whole country”, but warned that there could be more violence if Bakiyev tried to stay in office.
Anger bubbled over on Wednesday at Bakiyev’s administration for rampant corruption and hikes in utility rates, sparking violent protests that forced him to flee the capital for the south of the country, where he retains support.
At Saturday’s memorial services, Otunbayeva told the crowd that “those who died on April 7 are the heroes of Kyrgyzstan”.
“It was our duty to establish justice. Those who are being buried here today are all our children, the children of Kyrgyzstan,” she said. (Al Jazeera)

Several wounded in Iran bomb blast

A bomb blast outside a prison in the southwest Iranian city of Ilam has wounded several people, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
“Moments ago a bomb detonated in front of the central prison of the city of Ilam,” Fars said on Saturday, adding that the wounded had been rushed to hospital.
“The explosion, which took place during a visitation period, led to the injury of a number of individuals,” the Fars news agency said, giving no further detail.
Mehr news agency, quoting a local police official, said at least 19 people were wounded and that the blast led to the escape of two prisoners.
There was no independent confirmation of the report. Kourosh Saki, a medical official, said 14 people received medical care but were later allowed to leave hospital.
“There were no deaths in the aftermath of the explosion,” he told Fars.
Fars did not give any details on who might have been responsible for the blast nor what the motive might have been. Ilam, which is also the name of the province, is a mountainous region bordering Iraq, and home to tribal people as well as ethnic Kurds. Bomb attacks are relatively rare in the Islamic Republic, which also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Al Jazeera)

Thai protesters in standoff with Police

Thai security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at anti-government protesters attempting to break into military barracks in the heart of Bangkok on Saturday, state media reported.
The site is the headquarters of the army command, according to National TV.
The protesters have been rallying for weeks to demand new elections. Earlier Friday, they stormed the compound of a satellite center that distributes a signal for their television station, which was shut down by the government.
Police agreed to restore the station on condition that protesters vacate the compound.
After the group, known as the “red shirts,” retreated, a group of 4,000 soldiers seized the Thai satellite company and took the station, People Channel, or PTV, off air.
At least two dozen arrest warrants have been issued, police said.
Nearby streets were smoky from the canisters of tear gas flung by authorities. Police in green fatigues carried shields and some fired rubber bullets as they attempted to quell the protesters gathered near Rajaprasong and Phan Fah areas.
Protests have gripped the southeast Asian nation for weeks as the demonstrators seek to oust Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. A day earlier, the anti-government protesters demanded that officials reopen their television station, which was shut down amid accusations of misinformation. Abhisit said the station was shut down “to restore peace and order and to stop the spreading of false information to the Thai public.” (CNN)