POLAND

OCTOBER 4 2007 18:29h

Poland Postpones Katyn Ceremony After Protests

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Kaczynski brothers postponed a ceremony commemorating thousands of Polish officers killed by the Soviets during World War Two.

Poland's conservative ruling Kaczynski brothers postponed a ceremony commemorating thousands of Polish officers killed by the Soviets during World War Two after being accused on Thursday of trying to politicise it.

President Lech Kaczynski, whose brother Jaroslaw is campaigning for re-election as prime minister in an Oct. 21 parliamentary poll, had brought forward the ceremony marking the Katyn massacre to start on Friday from next spring.

But at the last minute the president decided to postpone it until Poland's Independence Day on Nov. 11.

"Unfortunately, the president's motives were falsely interpreted and the ceremony was dragged into the election campaign," said presidential aide Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka.

"President Kaczynski could not allow such treatment of victims, their families and the country's highest authority."

The ceremony, during which over 13,000 names of victims will be read out, had originally been scheduled to take place during the anniversary of the 1940 killings by Soviet secret police in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk in western Russia.

Victims' families protested against holding the ceremony in the midst of an election campaign, in which the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party is playing a strong nationalist card.

"I don't want the tragic death of my father ... to be made the subject of political horse-trading during an election battle," Gabriela Puzdrakiewicz-Gizewska wrote in a letter, extracts of which were published by Gazeta Wyborcza on Thursday.

FILM

Protests were joined by Polish opposition parties and Oscar-winning film director Andrzej Wajda, who recently directed a movie on Katyn and whose father was among the dead.

"I think this reflects not only my feelings but also of those for whom the memory of this crime is part of the memory of their families," Wajda said in a letter to the president.

The president's office had said the ceremony was to be brought forward to coincide with the release of Wajda's film and not because of the election, being held two years early after the collapse of the prime minister's rightist coalition.

The Katyn massacre, which followed the partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin, remains a thorn in relations between Poland and its former communist-era overlord. For may Poles, it remains an open wound.

Poland says a total of 15,000 Poles were killed near Katyn. Russian officials and historians have disputed the figure.

Warsaw has long pushed for Moscow to bring to account the perpetrators of the massacre. Victims' families and prosecutors have called for the killings to be treated as genocide.

Poland's relations with Russia have been difficult since the collapse of communism and got even worse after the Kaczynskis came to power in 2005.

Poland's readiness to host a U.S anti-missile shield has upset Russia. Moscow is also upholding a ban on Polish food products which Warsaw and the European Union say is politically motivated.

Advancing Nazi troops discovered the bodies in mass graves at Katyn in 1941. Soviet propagandists blamed the killings on the Germans and only in 1990 did President Mikhail Gorbachev say the Soviet NKVD secret police had been responsible.