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Polish president plane crash tests Polish, Russian leaders

Polish leaders appear to be quickly picking up the pieces after the tragic Polish president plane crash, which also killed much of Poland's political elite.

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Poland's 1997 Constitution appears to be functioning smoothly.

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Interim elections

Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, automatically becomes acting head of state, and interim presidential elections will be held within two months. Mr. Komorowski's first act was to declare a week of national mourning.

Other senior officials who perished in the crash are expected to be replaced in a similarly orderly manner.

"We can see that Poland is a working constitutional state, and a modern democracy, and it is reacting to this terrible shock in a very dignified way," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "One can be confident that there will be a process of new elections, fresh military appointments to fill this gap. There may be an interruption in the rapprochement between Russia and Poland that had been underway, but there seems no reason to fear a rupture because of this terrible accident."

Day of mourning in Russia

Russia, too, declared a day of mourning. President Dmitry Medvedev appointed his prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to head the investigation into the accident. Russian news agencies said that Polish investigators would be given full access to the plane's black box data and other details.

The initial report of Mr. Putin's lead investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, seems to exonerate Russia and blame "pilot error" for the crash. The report says the 26-year old Soviet-built Polish airforce Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft hit the trees at the edge of the Smolensk runway (as shown in this video reconstruction by the official Russian RIA-Novosti agency) and then smash into a field about 1 kilometer short of the runway.

The aircraft, which had undergone full servicing last December at the Aviakor plant – its original builder – in Samara, Russia, had no technical faults, according to Mr. Bastrykin. "The pilot was informed about complex weather conditions and, nevertheless, made a decision on landing," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying.

Conspiracy theories

But the Russian Internet already abounds with conspiratorial "versions" of what may have happened, and suspicions of foul play can also be encountered in some Western-based blogs, such as here and here.

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