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Britain and the world to lay Queen Elizabeth II to rest

The queen ruled for more than seven decades, throughout much of England’s modern history. Thousands gathered Monday to pay their last respects.

LONDON, UK — Britain and the world are laying Queen Elizabeth II to rest on Monday at a state funeral that will draw presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers — and up to a million people lining the streets of London to say a final goodbye to a monarch whose 70-year reign defined an age.

A day packed with funeral events in London and Windsor began early when the doors of 900-year-old Westminster Hall were closed to mourners after hundreds of thousands had filed in front of her coffin since Sept 14. Many of them had spent cold nights outdoors to pay their respects around the queen’s flag-draped coffin in a moving outpouring of national grief and respect.

The closing of the hall marked the end of more than four days of the coffin lying in state and the start of the U.K.’s first state funeral since the one held in 1965 for Winston Churchill, the first of 15 prime ministers during Elizabeth’s reign. Two days before her Sept. 8 death at her Balmoral summer retreat, the queen appointed her last prime minister, Liz Truss.

Among the last mourners to join the line to see the coffin was Tracy Dobson from Hertfordshire, just north of London.

“I felt like I had to come and pay my final respects to our majestic queen, she has done so much for us and just a little thank you really from the people,” she said.

Monday has been declared a public holiday in honor of Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 at 96. Her funeral will be broadcast live to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide and screened to crowds in parks and public spaces across the U.K.

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

On the evening before the funeral, King Charles III issued a message of thanks to people in the U.K. and around the world, saying he and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, have been “moved beyond measure” by the large numbers of people who have turned out to pay their respects to the queen.

“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those countless people who have been such a support and comfort to my family and myself in this time of grief,” he said.

For the funeral, Elizabeth’s coffin will be taken from Westminster Hall, across the road to Westminster Abbey, on a royal gun carriage drawn by 142 Royal Navy sailors. The same carriage was used to carry the coffins of late kings Edward VII, George V and George VI, and of Churchill.

The service, in the Gothic medieval abbey where Elizabeth was married in 1947 and crowned in 1953, will be attended by 2,000 people ranging from world leaders to health care workers and volunteers.

Mourners started arriving to take their seats shortly after 8 a.m. (0700 GMT; 3 a.m. EDT). Dignitaries were arriving later, with many heads of state gathering at a nearby hospital to be driven by bus to the abbey. Hours before the service was set to begin, London authorities said all viewing areas along route of the funeral procession were full.

The funeral will end with two minutes of silence followed by the national anthem and a piper’s lament, before the queen’s coffin is taken in a procession ringed by units of the armed forces in dress uniforms, with the queen’s children walking behind, to Wellington Arch near Hyde Park.

There, it will be placed in a hearse to be driven to Windsor for another procession along the Long Walk, a three-mile (five-kilometer) avenue leading to the town’s castle, before a committal service in St. George’s Chapel. She will then be laid to rest with her late husband, Prince Philip, at a private family service.

Central London was already packed before dawn Monday with people seeking out a prime viewing spot, and authorities warned that it would be extremely busy.

U.S. President Joe Biden was among leaders to pay their respects at the queen’s coffin on Sunday as thousands of police, hundreds of British troops and an army of officials made final preparations for the funeral — a spectacular display of national mourning that will also be the biggest gathering of world leaders for years.

Biden called Queen Elizabeth II “decent” and “honorable” and “all about service” as he signed the condolence book, saying his heart went out to the royal family.

People across Britain paused for a minute of silence at 8 p.m. Sunday in memory of the only monarch most have ever known. At Westminster Hall, the constant stream of mourners paused for 60 seconds as people observed the minute of reflection in deep silence.

In Windsor, rain began to fall as the crowd fell silent for the moment of reflection. Some set up small camps and chairs outside Windsor Castle, spending the night there to reserve the best spots to view the queen’s coffin when it arrives.

“It will all be worth it by 4 o’clock this afternoon,” said Sally McCloud, a business manager from nearby Maidenhead. “We’re all here for one reason, whether it be raining or not raining. So I’m quite happy to be here and got a little bit of sleep. I’ve had a nice cup of coffee this morning and we’ll just wait, wait in the rain.”

Fred Sweeney, 52, who kitted out his spot with two Union flags on large flagpoles, said “it’s just one night and day of our lives. Elizabeth gave us – you know – 70 years.”

One no-show for Monday’s funeral will be Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose invitation drew criticism from human rights groups because of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Saudi Arabia is expected to be represented by another royal, Prince Turki bin Mohammed.

Danica Kirka, Samya Kullab and David Keyton contributed to this report.

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