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Katyn claims new victims as Polish president's plane crashes

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, April 10 (RIA Novosti) - An ageing aircraft taking Polish President Lech Kaczynski to honor the Poles killed in a Soviet-era massacre in west Russia's Katyn forest crashed on Saturday morning. There were no survivors.

Kaczynski's wife and a delegation of top officials, including the country's chief of the General Staff and the head of the national bank, were among the other 96 people on board the more than 20-year-old Soviet-made TU-154.

The plane was taking Kaczynski to a ceremony to pay tribute to some 20,000 Polish officers who were executed in Katyn and other locations by Soviet secret police in 1940. The Poles had been taken prisoner during the USSR's invasion of Poland in the early days of World War Two.

"Katyn is claiming new victims," the head of the lower house of the Russian parliament's international relations committee, Konstantin Kosachyov, told RIA Novosti.

Soviet authorities refused to admit to the killings even after the death of Joseph Stalin, who had approved a suggestion by his secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria to execute the officers. It was not until 1990 that then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that the Soviets, and not the Nazis, had been responsible for the massacre.

Long a source of friction in modern Russian-Polish ties, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk recently took part in memorial services to commemorate the dead, in a sign that Poland and Russia are trying to put the Katyn massacre behind them.

In another indication of changing attitudes in Russia to the killings, Russian state television recently aired a Polish film about the massacre.

"We recently held together memorial ceremonies in Katyn and grieved together for the victims of the totalitarian era. Lech Kaczynski personally flew to Russia to pay tribute to the memory of the Polish officers who perished there – as a president, but also as a citizen of his country," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday in an address to the Polish people, for whom Katyn is once again synomous with death and destruction.

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