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Russia crash report blames Poles

A Russian investigation into the plane crash which killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski has blamed the Poles, saying the crew was forced to land in bad weather by an air force commander who had been drinking.

Mr Kaczynski and 95 others, including his wife, died last April when their Tu-154 plane crashed while trying to land in Smolensk, Russia. There were no survivors.

In Warsaw, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin and head of the opposition Law and Justice Party, criticised the Russian report, calling it a "mockery of Poland" and saying it unfairly puts all the blame on Poles. He said the report fails to offer convincing evidence the Poles are solely responsible and is based on speculation.

It has been clear all along that the pilots' decision to land in heavy fog at an airport with only basic navigation equipment was the main reason for the crash.

However, Poles have been eagerly awaiting the Russian report in order to learn if other factors - such as possible mistakes by Russian air traffic controllers or technical conditions at the Russian airport - might have played a role as well.

There was a broad expectation in Poland that Russia would acknowledge some responsibility and the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, expressed anger last month at an earlier draft by Russian investigators that also reportedly placed sole responsibility on Poles.

In Moscow, officials of the Interstate Aviation Committee, which investigates crashes in much of the former Soviet Union, said the pilots were pressured to land by Poland's air force commander, General Andrzej Blasik, who was in the cockpit. They said he had a blood-alcohol level of about 0.06 %, enough to impair reasoning.

Gen. Blasik's presence in the cockpit "had a psychological influence on the commander's decision to take an unjustified risk by continuing the descent with the overwhelming goal of landing by all means necessary," said committee chairwoman Tatiana Anodina.

The Polish government has not yet reacted to the Russian findings, saying it needed time to study the 200-page report.

The report found no fault with Russian air traffic controllers, who "gave no permission to land," said Alexei Morozov, the head of the committee's technical commission.

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