, the Polish president of the European Parliament, led an emotionally charged yet dignified ceremony in the Brussels hemicycle this afternoon to honour the 96 victims of last Saturday's plane crash
, many of whom he knew personally.
Fighting back the tears and addressing the chamber packed with MEPs and parliamentary staff Mr Buzek said "the messages of support I have received have given me and my country some strength and comfort
After paying tribute to the victims, he also praised Europe’s "Russian friends
" for their response to the disaster. "History has dramatically come full circle,
” he said, “we have been touched by the Russian reaction, full of dignity and understanding. We believe it will help us to reconcile our continent in both historical truth and mutual trust and respect.
A moment's silence was observed before the names of all 96 victims
were read out and a white rose placed in their memory.
Polish President Lech Kaczyński
, who had previously served in a government headed by Mr Buzek during his term as Poland's Prime Minister, and his wife Maria
died in the plane crash which happened in the early hours of Saturday morning near Smolensk
in Western Russia.
18 leading Polish members of parliament were among the victims of the crash as well as the president of the Polish national bank Slawomir Skrzypek
, the Army’s chief of staff, the deputy foreign minister and deputy speaker of the Polish parliament.
The Polish delegation had been en route to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre
when 22,000 Polish officers were killed by the NKVD
, Stalin's Soviet secret police, in 1940.
Former Polish president Lech Walesa
said the crash was a "second disaster after Katyn.
Russian investigators believe pilot error was to blame for the crash but there has been speculation in Poland and elsewhere that the plane's pilots may have felt under pressure to land without delay, in order for their passengers to attend the Katyn memorial service on time. The plane finally hit treetops on its fourth attempt to land.
Reflecting on the grief on show in Brussels this afternoon, Mr Buzek reminded us that "in unity lies strength - we are stronger when we are united