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Prayers, protests at Polish general's funeral

Friday - 5/30/2014, 1:07pm  ET

Protesters, holding photos of victims of the communist regime shout slogans against the late Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in front of the military cathedral during a Catholic Mass for Jaruzelski, in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 30, 2014. Jaruzelski, who died last week, imposed martial law on Poland in 1981 in an attempt to crush Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement but eight years later he allowed the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet-backed system. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Former opponents and supporters of Poland's last communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, laid him to rest with military honors Friday, while noisy protesters underscored the nation's ambivalence about the man who imposed military rule in 1981.

President Bronislaw Komorowski and former Presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski, attended the Catholic funeral Mass for Jaruzelski in a Warsaw military cathedral.

In a poignant moment, Walesa, Komorowski and Kwasniewski approached the grieving family and shook hands with Jaruzelski's widow, daughter and grandson.

Komorowski, in brief remarks, said Jaruzelski "carried the burden of responsibility for the most difficult and probably the most dramatic decision in Poland's history after World War II."

He praised Jaruzelski for allowing a peaceful political transition "that brought fruit in the form of our freedom and independence."

As Jaruzelski's family and friends later processed to an army cemetery to bury his ashes, protesters shouted "murderer" and "traitor." Some held up photos of people killed by Jaruzelski's military regime.

With protesters' whistles competing with a military band, the black urn with Jaruzelski's ashes was lowered into a grave. Kwasniewski delivered a brief eulogy and the Guard of Honor fired three rounds of salute.

The family's request for a religious ceremony was unexpected. Though born to a Catholic family, Jaruzelski became a devoted supporter of Soviet-backed communism, an atheist ideology foisted on his largely Catholic homeland after World War II.

But at the end he sought solace in the faith of his childhood. Shortly before he died Sunday at age 90, after a long battle with cancer and a stroke, Jaruzelski called for a priest to administer last rites, made his confession and took communion.

Jaruzelski imposed martial law in 1981 in an attempt to crush Walesa's Solidarity freedom movement. About 100 people died in the crackdown.

Eight years later, Jaruzelski allowed the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet-backed system and served briefly as the first president of the new democracy.

Walesa and Komorowski were among tens of thousands of activists who were imprisoned under martial law, and their presence Friday reflected the degree of reconciliation achieved between former communists and their opponents.

Jaruzelski maintained that he imposed martial law to spare Poland from a Soviet invasion. But the protesters testified that not all have forgiven him.

"A murderer is awaiting his sentence," said one banner.


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