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Giant protest against cross to late Polish Prez

world Updated: Aug 10, 2010 07:57 IST

AFP
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Several thousand protestors rallied before Warsaw's presidential palace early on Tuesday to seek the removal of a cross erected there after the April air crash death of president Lech Kaczynski.



"We live in a secular state and the place of the cross is in the church, not in front of the presidential palace," one of the protestors, Krzysztof Nowicki, a sociology student, told AFP.



The demonstrators gathered around midnight Monday for the rally, organised on the Facebook social networking site where the "Akcja Krzyz" (Cross Action) group has drawn 43,000 members.



Across the street, behind metal barriers set up by police around the cross, a group of close to 100 supporters prayed and sang religious hymns.



"They aren't Catholics, they're fanatics," an anti-cross protester -- a student who identified himself as Kuba -- told AFP. "We've come here to show that we want to live in a normal country," he added.



"Go to church, go to church," were among the slogans shouted by the protestors who want the cross to be moved.



Most were young, some dressed up as characters from the 'Star Wars' movies.



Supporters and relatives of the late president, including his twin brother and conservative opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, want the cross to remain as a memorial to victims of the April 10 air crash.



The accident in Russia killed president Kaczynski and all other 95 passengers and crew aboard a Polish government jet.



Last Tuesday, Polish authorities decided to leave the wooden cross in front of the palace amid an emotionally-charged protest by hundreds against its removal.



Two weeks ago the presidential palace, archbishop of Warsaw and scouts groups announced the cross would be moved in August in a procession to nearby Saint Anne's church.



The crucifix has long been a strong symbol of national identity in deeply Catholic Poland, especially in the post-war period until 1989 under nearly half a century of communism when Poland was officially atheist.



Kaczynski's death forced a snap election on July 4 in which his twin stood against liberal Bronislaw Komorowski, who won the vote and was sworn-in last Friday.



Dozens of people meet around the cross every day for prayers, to lay flowers and to light candles in memory of the victims.