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Slain mayor lies in state at Solidarity museum in Poland

WARSAW, Poland  — The slain mayor of Gdansk lay in state Thursday at a museum devoted to Poland’s pro-democracy Solidarity movement, which started in a local shipyard and the late city leader was active in as a student.

Residents lined up to file past the coffin of Mayor Pawel Adamowicz, which was surrounded by white-and-green flowers and draped in the flag of the city that re-elected him to a sixth term in the fall.

Adamowicz, 53, died Monday after being stabbed at a charity event by an ex-convict who shouted he was taking revenge against the centrist political party that previously ruled Poland.

The popular mayor will lay in state until Friday afternoon at the European Solidarity Center, which tells the history of Solidarity, the trade union that resisted Poland’s Soviet-backed communist regime in the 1980s.

Shipyard electrician Lech Walesa led the union into a movement for democracy, won the Nobel Peace Prize and later served as Poland’s elected president. Walesa, 75, still lives in Gdansk and has joined residents mourning Adamowicz this week.

Most of the people who paid respects at the museum made the Catholic sign of the cross, bowed their heads and touched the casket.. Girl Scouts stood at attention.

Outside, residents arranged mourning candles in the shape of a heart for the second night in a row. On Friday, a procession will carry the coffin to St. Mary’s Basilica, passing by sites connected to Adamowicz’s life, before a funeral Mass.

The suspect in the mayor’s death stabbed Adamowicz three times in the heart and abdomen while on stage during the charity event. He told the audience he did it for revenge on Civic Platform, the party that governed Poland when he was sent to prison in 2013 for bank robberies.

Adamowicz belonged to the party until 2015.

The killing comes as Poland finds itself riven by bitter ideological divisions and large amounts of hate speech appearing online, mirroring trends in the United States and other places.

Amid that backdrop, many Poles have made appeals for calm and reconciliation since the mayor’s assassination, including the suspect’s family in their entreaties.

Gdansk Deputy Mayor Piotr Kowalczuk has met with the suspect’s mother and said the family was in shock and needed protection because of threats.

“We need to make sure that they don’t fall victims to hate,” Kowalczuk said.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said that before the suspect’s release from prison, his mother warned authorities about his psychological condition and some plans he talked about that she believed were a threat to general security.

A spokeswoman for prison authorities, Lt. Col. Elzbieta Krakowska, said officials and a psychologist repeatedly talked to the prisoner before he was freed, but found nothing to justify delaying his release.

Polish media have reported that he spent some time in a prison hospital for psychiatric issues.

But Krakowska said the suspect was seen 20 times by psychiatrists and psychologists during his more than five years in prison and they never suggested he should be treated in any special way.

Prosecutors have requested having him examined by psychiatrists for the investigation of the mayor’s assassination.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians and thousands of Poles called for the firing of the head of state broadcaster TVP over a program on hate speech in politics that it ran after Adamowicz died. The only examples in the program selectively quoted opposition politicians.

The government’s critics accuse the broadcaster, which is controlled by the right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice, of fueling the divisions in society.

Polish media report that even government ministers want TVP head Jacek Kurski to go.

Before the museum in Gdansk became a place for Poles to grieve Thursday, the Gdansk City Council held a special memorial session in the late mayor’s honor.

A friend of almost 40 years, Aleksander Hall, described Adamowicz as a brave man who defended the highest values and sought compromise, as well as an optimist with a great sense of humor.

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