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Poland to exhume bodies of 2010 Smolensk crash victims

Prosecutors want to examine remains as claims arise that the crash which killed president Lech Kaczynski may have been caused by an explosion. Polish prosecutors said on Tuesday they would reopen the coffins of all victims of a 2010 presidential jet crash to examine the remains.

The prosecutors’ decision to exhume all uncremated remains comes months after the government merged the posts of prosecutor-general and justice minister, giving itself more direct control over the investigation.

It also follows the ruling conservatives’ decision to relaunch a government investigation into the case.

The move is likely to strain relations with Russia. Although PiS, the ruling Law and Justice party, has never accused Russia of orchestrating the president’s death, it has said the Kremlin benefited from the crash.

PiS officials have also accused Moscow of prolonging its investigation, and withholding evidence, such as the black boxes and the plane’s wreckage.

The Polish state prosecution said it informed the victims’ families that exhumations were necessary, as comprehensive postmortem examinations were key to reconstructing the chain of events and establishing the cause of the crash, “despite the several years which have passed”.

Six of the previously exhumed nine bodies had been wrongly identified, the prosecution said in a statement. The Polish state prosecution added that reopening the coffins, which had been sealed in Russia, was necessary to confirm all identities.

The crash near Smolensk, in western Russia, killed 96 people including Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife, as well as the central bank chief, top army brass and several lawmakers.

According to the Guardian, an inquiry by the previous centrist government put the crash down to a pilot error, but the ruling Law and Justice party, led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, says the crash may have been caused by an explosion on board.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has also repeatedly accused the then prime minister, Donald Tusk, now head of the European Council, of being indirectly responsible for the crash through negligence.

The crash happened near the place where Stalinist secret police forces shot some of the 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals executed in 1940. For Poland, the massacre is an enduring symbol of its suffering caused by the Soviets. President Lech Kaczynski had been flying in to commemorate it.

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