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Moscow, Warsaw continue to trade barbs over plane crash report

Other News Materials 13 January 2011 16:18
A Russian report on a plane crash that killed top Polish officials last year continued to stoke tensions on Thursday, with Russia's foreign minister and the wife of the Polish air force chief blamed for the accident jumping into the fray.
Moscow, Warsaw continue to trade barbs over plane crash report

A Russian report on a plane crash that killed top Polish officials last year continued to stoke tensions on Thursday, with Russia's foreign minister and the wife of the Polish air force chief blamed for the accident jumping into the fray, DPA reported.

"I hope there will not be any speculation and that nobody will try to capitalize politically from this tragedy," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference carried by Russian state television, calling Polish criticism of the report "defamatory."

But Ewa Blasik said that the report's conclusion about her husband, Polish Air Force commander Andrzej Blasik, being drunk and pressuring the pilot to land despite bad weather could not be backed up by the available evidence.

She described the document during a speech in parliament as a "disgraceful attempt to malign her husband's memory" and called on her government to "defend the honour of Polish officers."

The report, compiled by Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee, was met with a barrage of criticism from Poland after its release on Wednesday, with most people taking issue with the fact that it clears Russian air controllers of any wrongdoing.

The Law and Justice party (PiS) called on Polish parliamentarians to reject the report. PiS lawmaker Mariusz Blaszczak said that the document is a "disgrace" and demanded an international inquiry into the plane crash.

The Tupolev TU-154 had been carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski - the twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski - and 95 other people to a ceremony commemorating the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in Katyn in April 1940.

Russian air traffic controllers had advised against the landing because of heavy fog and poor visibility at the airport in Smolensk. The pilots attempted to land anyway, striking trees.

Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller announced Thursday that the recorded conversations of the Russian air traffic controllers would be released next week, alleging that the tower workers had been distracted by exterior interference.

Miller is chairing a Polish investigation into the crash.

Polish officials have also raised concerns about shortfalls at the airport, including allegations that landing lights on the runway had not been turned on.

Lavrov said in Moscow on Thursday that he would not comment on "individual opinions" and called Russian inquiry committee "independent."

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk had nevertheless described the investigation last month as "unacceptable," saying that some of the conclusions it had made were "without foundation."

Tusk is expected to issue new comments on the report later Thursday. Blasik accused him earlier in the day of being too passive.

Poland and Russia had recently attempted to open a new, more positive chapter in their relationship - an effort that the crash report is now threatening to derail.

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