An elaborate state funeral for Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, began today bereft of many world leaders whose travel plans were paralysed by the plume of volcanic ash that has covered Europe.

The couple’s bodies were flown from Warsaw to Krakow early today for the tradition-laden ceremony and burial in the nearby Wawel Cathedral, the final resting place for Poland’s kings, poets and statesmen, including Gen Wladyslaw Sikorski, the exiled World War II leader who perished in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943.

U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among the leaders who cancelled at the last minute because of the expanding volcanic ash cloud, dangerous to airplane engines that has enveloped Europe and closed nearly all of the continent’s airports since late Thursday.

“All the French people will be, in their thoughts, with the Polish people” today, Sarkozy said in a letter sent to acting president Bronislaw Komorowski expressing his regret for being unable to attend.

The volcanic ash did not deter everyone.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev flew by plane from Moscow for the funeral.

His presence was further sign of the warming ties between the two countries, which had been strained for centuries, and recently because of communism and the 1940 Katyn massacre.

Others, including the leaders of Baltic and Balkan states, came by car for the stately event.

Despite the dearth of global dignitaries, no one said the funeral should be postponed.

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