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Obama cancels plans to attend Polish president's funeral

'I will not be able to make it . . . due to the volcanic ash that is disrupting air travel over Europe,' he says in a statement. The U.S. envoy to Poland will attend Lech Kaczynski's funeral.

April 17, 2010|By Mark Silva

Reporting from Washington — President Obama, who was to fly to Poland on Sunday night to attend the funeral of former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, on Saturday canceled that planned journey because of the plume of volcanic ash from Iceland that has closed airports throughout Europe.

"I spoke with acting President [Bronislaw] Komorowski, and told him that I regret that I will not be able to make it to Poland due to the volcanic ash that is disrupting air travel over Europe," Obama said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon by the White House.

"Michelle and I continue to have the Polish people in our thoughts and prayers, and will support them in any way I can as they recover from this terrible tragedy," the president's statement said.

The Polish president, his wife and several senior members of his administration were killed when the Soviet-era aircraft crashed last weekend while traveling to a memorial service in Russia for the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish prisoners of war.

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

Obama called the acting Polish president with his regrets about being unable to travel in the midst of a global bottleneck in international air travel because of the volcanic ash from the still-erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland that has drifted across Europe.

The American ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, will attend the funeral Sunday.

mdsilva@tribune.com

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