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Obama cancels trip to Poland for funeral

Obama cancels trip to Poland for funeral
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk (L) pays his respects at the coffins containing the remains of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife lying in state the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland on April 14, 2010. UPI/Henryk Jackowski /BEW | License Photo

WARSAW, Poland, April 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will not go to Poland to attend a memorial for the country's president, officials said.

The trip was canceled because volcanic ash from an Icelandic eruption has canceled flights across Europe. Warsaw and Krakow airports in Poland were closed Saturday.

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White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama had called Acting President Komorowski to express his condolences and inform him of the cancellation.

"President (Lech) Kaczynski was a patriot and close friend and ally of the United States, as were those who died alongside him, and the American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama's statement said.

The United States will be represented by the U.S. ambassador to Poland.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his delegation also will miss the funeral after volcanic ash forced the cancellation of the flight they planned to take early Saturday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Saturday.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people crowded Warsaw's main square Saturday to mourn Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others killed last weekend.

The country observed a minute of silence, church bells pealed and sirens rang out in the capital during the four-hour service at Warsaw's Pilsudski Square, and the crowd overflowed into a park, where large TV screens broadcast the service, the BBC reported.

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"We will always remember them," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a crowd of some 100,000 people in the center of the capital, Polish radio said, RIA Novosti reported.

At the service, a photo bore each victim's image and Polish bishops and the Vatican envoy, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, were expected to celebrate mass. The bodies of the president and his wife, Maria, were to be moved from the presidential palace to St. John's Cathedral, then to Krakow after an overnight vigil.

The Soviet-made Tu-154 plane crashed last Saturday in western Russia as it carried a delegation heading to a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet execution of more than 20,000 Poles.

Investigators said it appeared the plane's crew ignored warnings not to land at Smolensk airport because of fog and bad weather.

The BBC said some heads of state say they will use trains and cars to get to Krakow. French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to attend, even though French airspace has been badly affected by the volcanic eruption, a spokesman said.

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