World leaders expressed shock and dismay at the death of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and many of the country's top officials in a plane crash Saturday in western Russia.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked to hear the news of the plane crash,” his office said.

“On behalf of the United Nations, the Secretary-General expresses his deep and heartfelt condolences to the people and government of Poland and to the families of those who perished.

U.S. President Barack Obama, offering condolences, described the loss as “devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world.” He praised those killed in the crash as “many of Poland's most distinguished civilian and military leaders who have helped to shape Poland's inspiring democratic transformation.”

Poland's first post-Communist president Lech Walesa cried, “Jesus, Holy Mary, it's an inconceivable tragedy, an inconceivable disaster,” when he learned the news.

“The Soviets killed Polish elites in Katyn 70 years ago. Today, the Polish elite died there while getting ready to pay homage to the Poles killed there,” Walesa told AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “deeply shocked,” adding, “It is a human and political tragedy for our neighbour Poland.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said he was deeply moved and very sad at the death of a man “driven by ardent patriotism, who dedicated his life to his country.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sent her “deepest sympathy” to the Polish people and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Mr. Kaczynski would be mourned across the world and remembered as a passionate patriot and democrat.

Pope Benedict XVI said he felt “deep pain” at the death of the head of state of strongly Catholic Poland.

China's President Hu Jintao said he was “deeply saddened” while President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said his heart went out to the Polish people and the families of those killed.

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