US President Barack Obama and a host of other world leaders have said they will not attend the state funeral of Poland’s first couple due to the volcanic ash cloud still hanging over Europe.
The service at Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral for President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria follows last week’s plane crash in heavy fog in western Russia.
Thousands are expected to watch the ceremony on giant screens in the city centre, crowning a week of national mourning.
France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the UK’s Prince Charles have also pulled out because of travel chaos that has shut nearly all of Europe’s major airports.
The family of Poland’s presidential couple insisted the funeral go ahead and Lech Kaczynski’s brother Jaroslaw, daughter Marta and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk were among mourners at a mass in Warsaw’s St John’s Cathedral on Saturday evening.
Earlier, an estimated 100,000 people packed into the Polish capital’s Pilsudski square to pay their final respects to the crash’s 96 victims. During the ceremony, Prime Minister Tusk described the accident as the biggest tragedy in Poland’s history since the Second World War.