Poland eyes June 20 vote, post-crash cracks emerge

By Gabriela Baczynska and Pawel Sobczak

WARSAW (BestGrowthStock) – Poland’s ruling party said on Wednesday that presidential elections were likely to be held on June 20 as protests grew over the choice of a burial site for late president Lech Kaczynski.

Some Poles reacted with fury to plans unveiled on Tuesday by a senior cardinal to bury the late president and his wife Maria at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, a place normally reserved for national heroes, poets and kings.

The uproar exposed the first cracks in the display of national unity that has followed Kaczynski’s death in a plane crash, days before world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are expected in Poland for the Sunday funeral.

A total of 96 people died in the crash near Smolensk in western Russia on Saturday, including Polish military commanders, top opposition figures and the central bank governor.

Kaczynski and his entourage had been traveling to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest.

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Warsaw to welcome his body home at the weekend and people have queued in the rain for hours to get a glimpse of the first couple’s coffins at the presidential palace in the capital.

But the burial plans sparked a sharp reaction. Support for Kaczynski, a polarizing nationalist and euroskeptic, had dwindled to 20 percent before his death.

“HASTY AND EMOTIONAL”

Leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza called the decision “hasty and emotional” in a front-page editorial. Andrzej Wajda, the influential, Oscar-winning Polish director of a film on the Katyn tragedy, wrote to the paper urging the decision on the burial site be reversed.

Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, the lower house speaker and the presidential candidate of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist Civic Platform (PO), held talks on Wednesday with political parties to set a date for the presidential poll.

They agreed to push back a final decision until next week. A leading PO official said the poll would most likely take place on June 20.

Under the rules of the Polish constitution, the election must be held within 60 days of the date announcement and the slight delay gives right-wing Law and Justice (PiS), led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, and the main leftist SLD party extra time to find candidates.

SLD’s presidential candidate also died in the plane crash.

A spokesman for Russia’s Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 64 victims of the crash had now been formally identified and that the remains of 30 were to be repatriated to Poland.

In addition to Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to attend the funeral of Kaczynski and his wife in Krakow, the seat of Polish monarchs up until the end of the 16th century.

About 500 people staged a noisy protest in central Krakow late on Tuesday against the decision to bury the couple at the Wawel Cathedral, waving banners that read “Not Krakow, not Wawel” and “Are you sure he (Kaczynski) is the equal of kings?.”

MORE PROTESTS PLANNED

More protests were scheduled for Wednesday evening in Krakow, Warsaw and three other cities. Poles also organized protest campaigns on social media site Facebook.

By Wednesday afternoon, the group “No to the Kaczynskis burial in Wawel” had attracted over 30,000 fans.

“If President Kaczynski had died of natural causes he would never have been buried in Wawel,” Jerzy Meysztowicz, an entrepreneur and PO politician in Krakow, told Reuters. “All the president’s faults will soon be in the spotlight and in many cases sorrow will turn to hate.”

Allies of the late president defended the decision, which was made after consultations on Tuesday between the church and family members, including Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Wawel is a large complex of buildings on the Vistula river in Krakow that includes a castle, cathedral and fortifications, and traces its roots as a center of political power back to the end of the first millennium.

As well as Polish kings, the Wawel crypt also contains the bodies of legendary military commander Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who fought in the U.S. war of independence, Poland’s wartime leader Wladyslaw Sikorski and national poet Adam Mickiewicz.

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(Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski in Krakow, Dagmara Leszkowicz in Warsaw; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Poland eyes June 20 vote, post-crash cracks emerge