WARSAW, Poland - Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died Saturday in a plane crash in Russia, was a one-time anti-communist activist who teamed up with his twin brother to take his country in a nationalist, conservative direction.

The deaths of those aboard were not expected to directly affect the functioning of Polish government: Poland's president is commander in chief of its armed forces but the position's domestic duties are chiefly symbolic. No top government ministers were aboard the plane.

Kaczynski, 60, pursued a strongly pro-U.S. line in foreign relations, in accordance with a consensus that has grown in Poland since the fall of communism. An enthusiastic backer of Bush administration plans to site a U.S. missile defense facility in the country, he nonetheless faced an uphill struggle to win re-election later this year, Polish political experts said.

The prickly nationalism of Kaczynski and his identical twin, Jaroslaw - who served for a time as prime minister and is now opposition leader - sometimes complicated ties with European neighbors and Russia. His appeal at home rested partly on his forthright representation of Polish views and his tough stance on law and order.

Kaczynski first rose to fame as a child movie star alongside his brother in a hit movie in 1962, "Two Who Stole the Moon," about two troublemakers who try to get rich by stealing the moon and selling it.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the brothers were activists in the anti-communist opposition and served as advisers to Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.

Kaczynski supported Walesa's 1990 presidential bid and became his chief adviser on security issues.

His cooperation with Walesa later ended in acrimony over political differences.

Poland sent troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and recently boosted its contingent in Afghanistan to some 2,600 soldiers.

President Barack Obama was one of several world leaders Saturday who said he called Polish prime minister Donald Tusk to express his "deepest condolences to the people of Poland on the tragic deaths."

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