Norwich Polish community mourns death of president

Peter WalshMembers of Norwich's sizeable Polish population have today spoken of their shock at the death of their country's president, his wife, and several key government figures were killed in a plane crash.Peter Walsh

Members of Norwich's sizeable Polish population have today spoken of their shock after their country's president, his wife and several key government figures were killed in a plane crash.

Polish workers living in the city have spent much of the weekend in mourning following the tragedy in Smolensk, Western Russia, which happened on Saturday morning when the plane hit trees as it tried to land in thick fog.

President Lech Kaczynski, 60, and other senior figures including Poland's army chief, central bank governor, MPs and military heads were among the 97 people on board who were killed.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has described it as the "most tragic event in the country's post-war history" and while a week of national mourning was called by the government in Poland, so too fellow countrymen and women in Norwich have paid their respects.

Dozens of men and women descended on the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist on Earlham Road, Norwich, on Saturday to pray for those who perished in the crash.

More people attended the cathedral's Mass in Polish held at the cathedral yesterday, some signed the visitors book and left messages, while a two-minute silence to remember those who died was also held.

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Anna Bartnik, a Polish Police Community Support Officer based in Woodcock Road, Mile Cross, said: "It's really hard to express how we feel. It's really shocking. He was a lovely person even if his performance wasn't great. He was trying for our nation. Itreally sad - you wouldn't wish, even on your worst enemy, something like this. Our government lost lots of nice and very reliable people. Everyone is going to miss these people and to try to replace them will be very hard."

Agata Glowa, 32, who runs The Polish Shop on Hall Road, Norwich, said she could not believe what had happened on Saturday.

She said: "I know that people are in shock. It's sad, it's really sad. It's not only about the president, but his wife and all those other people - more than 90 people died.

"No one knows who will be next (president). So many important people from government were on board."

The president had been travelling to Russia to take part in official commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of a massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet forces.

The presidential plane was a 20-year-old Tupolev TU-154s. There have been 66 crashes involving the TU-154s - six in the last five years. There is speculation that pilot error may have caused the crash, but authorities stressed that only after examination of the "black boxes" - the voice and flight data recorders - both of which have been recovered, could a statement about the cause be made.

� Are you a member of the Polish community who is organising a tribute to the president? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email