Biden is among thousands of people honoring Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden honored Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin Sunday as thousands of police, hundreds of British soldiers and an army of officials made final preparations for the queen’s state funeral, an impressive display of national mourning that will also be the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. in recent years.

People across the UK observed the only monarch most have ever known with a minute’s silence at 8pm. At Westminster Hall, where the Queen lies in state, the steady stream of mourners stopped for 60 seconds as people watched in profound silence for a moment of reflection.

In Windsor, where the Queen will be laid to rest on Monday night after her funeral at Westminster Abbey, it began to rain as the crowd fell silent for a moment of reflection. Some have set up small camps and chairs near Windsor Castle, planning to spend the night there to reserve prime spots to view the Queen’s coffin when she arrives.

“Well, it’s just one night and one day of our lives. Elizabeth gave us – you know – 70 years. So the rest isn’t too much to ask, is it?’ said Fred Sweeney, 52, who set up his place with two Union flags on large trees.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden were among thousands of mourners — from locals and tourists to royalty and world leaders — to pay their respects. The president crossed himself and placed his hand over his heart as he stood quietly by the casket in the ornate 900-year-old hall with his wife and US Ambassador Jane Hartley.

Biden then signed the official condolence book and attended a Sunday reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles III. He is one of 500 world leaders and royals invited to the Queen’s state funeral on Monday, along with hundreds of dignitaries, politicians, military veterans and British charity workers.

Biden described Queen Elizabeth II as “decent”, “honorable” and “all about service” as he signed a book of condolences, saying his heart was with the royal family.

“Queen Elizabeth lived her life for the people,” Jill Biden wrote in a book for spouses and ambassadors. “She served with wisdom and grace. We will never forget her warmth, kindness and the conversations we shared.”

One of those not attending will be Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose invitation has drawn criticism from rights groups over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Another royal, Prince Turki bin Mohammed, is expected to represent Saudi Arabia.

As dignitaries poured in, hundreds of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen’s coffin prepared to spend the night outside in the longest queue many had ever seen. Authorities closed the mile-long line on Sunday evening to allow everyone in line to pass the coffin until Monday morning, when it will be taken to Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s funeral.

Family after family, thousands continued to join the queue around the clock, braving cold overnight temperatures and waits of up to 5 hours in a line that stretched more than 5 miles (8 kilometers).

Lauren Wilson, 36, was in a much shorter queue for people with mobility issues. She said she wanted to see the coffin in person.

“The world is in such a strange place and then this happened. It seems more important, she said.

She worried that the pomp surrounding Elizabeth’s death would deprive the queen’s relatives of the opportunity to come to terms with their loss.

“The family cannot be grieved. I think it’s very heartwarming,” she said.

The Queen’s eight grandchildren, led by heir to the throne Prince William, circled the coffin and stood with their heads bowed during a silent vigil on Saturday night.

Among the foreign leaders in London was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who told the BBC she was delighted to represent her nation at the funeral and to witness the national outpouring of grief and respect for the late queen.

“What I will take away from this period is just the beauty of the public response, the kindness you see from members of the public, the patience, the camaraderie. For me, it was the most moving tribute, the public reaction of the British people,” she said.

Monday was declared a day off in honor of Elizabeth, who died on September 8 at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne. Her funeral will be broadcast live in more than 200 countries and territories around the world and watched by crowds in parks and public spaces across the country.

Police officers from across the country will be on duty as part of the biggest one-day police operation in London’s history.

Camilla, the queen consort, paid tribute to her mother-in-law in a video message, saying the monarch had “carved her own role” as a “lone woman” on the male-dominated world stage.

“I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable,” said Camilla, who is married to Charles.

The first lady of Ukraine, Elena Zelenska, was also among those present who honored the queen’s coffin. British royal officials said Zelenska met Catherine, Princess of Wales, at Buckingham Palace on Sunday afternoon. They did not release any further details. The British government has been one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters since Russia invaded in February.

On Saturday night, it was time for the grandchildren to grieve. Charles’ sons William and Prince Harry were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tyndall and Peter Phillips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and Prince Edward’s two children – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

William stood with his head down at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, front-line soldiers, were in uniform. The crowd passed by slowly, silently.

“You could see they thought a lot about their grandmother, the Queen,” said Ian Mockett, a civil engineer from Oxford in southern England. “It was nice to see them all together as grandchildren, given what’s happened in the last few years.”

The memorial service will continue into the early hours of Monday morning, when the Queen’s coffin will be carried on a carriage drawn by 142 Royal Navy sailors to nearby Westminster Abbey for burial, the finale to 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

Following Monday’s service at the Abbey, the late Queen’s coffin will be carried through historic central London on a state hearse. He will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the Queen will be buried alongside her late husband Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99.

Sumita Tanda laid bright red roses as huge flowers bloomed outside Windsor Castle.

“I am honored to be a Windsor local,” she said. “I just wanted to give credit.”

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Associated Press reporters Danica Kirk and David Caton contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii

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