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Poland defends large government ceremony during lockdown

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s government on Tuesday defended officials' attendance at commemorations for a fatal plane crash, despite its own ban on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than a dozen government members, without protective masks, joined ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in open-air ceremonies in Warsaw Friday for the 10th anniversary of the crash that killed Kaczynski’s twin, then-President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other prominent Poles.

An opposition party leader, Adam Szlapka, has notified prosecutors that attendance greatly exceeded the maximum permissible five people. Media and ordinary Poles have also been critical, saying the government showed contempt for its own restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19.

Several cyclists, walkers and at least one church have been fined the equivalent of almost 3,000 euros ($3,300) for infringing social distancing rules.

Government spokesman Piotr Mueller argued Tuesday the ceremonies were part of government members' duties and were “not banned” under regulations permitting people to go to work. He added these members of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's cabinet met face-to-face quite often.

However, weekly government sessions and news conferences are held remotely by video.

Kaczynski also came under strong public criticism for taking a limousine Friday to his mother's grave in Warsaw's Powazki cemetery, which is closed to the public.

State-run TVP INFO said Kaczynski had sought and obtained special permission to enter the cemetery, and made the required payment for using the car. TVP INFO said Kaczynski also visited graves of the crash victims there.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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