Thousands of people gathered for two minutes of silence in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw. ((Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press))

Poles gathered in streets and town squares Sunday, observing two minutes of silence, as they mourned President Lech Kaczynski and other top-ranking officials killed in a plane crash in western Russia.

Church bells pealed and emergency sirens shrieked for nearly a minute before fading into silence. Mourners bowed their heads, eyes closed, in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw. Buses and trams halted in the streets.

Photos of the deceased were on display near the palace, behind rows of candles and flowers.


The daughter of the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Marta, kneels in front of her father's coffin as Kaczynski's twin brother Jaroslaw stands beside, left, at the military airport in Warsaw. ((Alik Keplicz/Associated Press))

Kaczynski's coffin later arrived in Warsaw aboard a military plane after a brief ceremony in Smolensk, where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin paid his respects, standing alongside Polish ambassador Jerzy Bahr at the airport.

Tens of thousands of Poles softly sang the national anthem and tossed flowers at the hearse as it made its way to the presidential palace in Warsaw.

The coffin bearing Kaczynski's remains were met first by his daughter Marta, whose mother Maria also perished in the crash. She knelt before it, her forehead resting on the coffin.

She was followed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister and the president's twin brother. He, too, knelt and pressed his head against the flag-draped coffin before rising slowly and crossing himself.

Standing sentinel were four Polish troopers bearing sabres.

No date for a funeral has been set and the presidential palace has not yet said if Kaczynski will lie in state.


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, second from the left, and Polish ambasador to Russia Jerzy Bahr, left, stand next to the coffin of Polish President Lech Kaczynski during a farewell ceremony at the Smolensk airport on Sunday. ((RIA-Novosti/Alexei Nikolsky/AP))

The Tupolev Tu-154 plane carrying the president, his wife and several other high-ranking officials crashed in heavy fog near Smolensk on Saturday, killing all 96 people on board.

The president, military chiefs and members of parliament were due to attend memorial ceremonies for Polish victims of the 1940 Katyn Massacre when the presidential plane crashed during a landing attempt.

Russian media reported the crew made several attempts to land before a wing hit the treetops.

No one survived the crash.

Among those on board were the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, the country's central bank head, the head of the national security bureau, the deputy minister of foreign affairs; the chief of the general staff of the Polish army, the president of Poland’s national bank and the commissioner for civil rights.

With files from The Associated Press