WARSAW — More than 100,000 Poles filled Warsaw's biggest public square Saturday, joining together for a memorial and funeral Mass for the 96 people killed in a plane crash a week earlier.
The thickening cloud of volcanic ash over Europe caused some world leaders — including President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — to cancel plans to attend today's state funeral.
Obama "waited as long as possible before he made the decision because he wanted to come," said Lee Feinstein, U.S. ambassador to Poland. "But it was impossible for him to travel."
All airports in Poland remained closed Saturday to flights above the cloud level of 20,000 feet because of the ash cloud, including Balice in Krakow, where most of the international dignitaries were to have arrived this morning, said Grzegorz Hlebowicz, spokesman for Poland's aviation authorities.
Some European leaders said they planned to travel by car to attend the funeral. They included Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic, Slovenian President Danilo Turk, Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
The crowd in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square waved white-and-red Polish flags with black ribbons of mourning affixed to them. A massive white stage, a large cross in the center, was flanked by oversized photos of the dead, including President Lech Kaczynski.
The names of the dead were read aloud, starting with the president and his wife, Maria, while Marta, their only child, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother and former prime minister, looked on. Others at the service included former President Lech Walesa, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and acting President Bronislaw Komorowski.
"Our world went crashing down for the second time at the same place," Komorowski said of the crash near Russia's Katyn forest, site of a World War II massacre of Polish officers.
Tusk called the crash a calamitous event that was "the greatest tragedy in Poland since the war." The crash claimed the lives of a swath of Poland's elite, including numerous lawmakers, the central bank governor, the commanders of the country's armed forces and the head of its Olympic committee, among others.
The coffins bearing Kaczynski and his wife were taken to a Gothic cathedral in Warsaw for an evening Mass, escorted by Polish soldiers on foot and horse-riding cavalry behind them.
After the Mass, their bodies will remain in the cathedral and then be flown early today to Krakow.