US President Joe Biden pays respects to Queen Elizabeth before funeral

Presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and sultans representing nearly 200 countries and territories will join Monday's state funeral

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U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden prepare to sign a condolence book for Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Reuters
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden prepare to sign a condolence book for Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Reuters

By Reuters

Published: Sun 18 Sep 2022, 8:49 PM

US President Joe Biden paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth on the eve of her state funeral on Sunday, appearing on a balcony overlooking the coffin of Britain's late monarch as she lay in state.

Biden is among the scores of dignitaries and royals from across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas who will attend Monday's funeral. Hundreds of thousands of people have descended on London to pay tribute to Britain's longest-reigning monarch, who died on Sept. 8 aged 96.

Elizabeth's body has been lying in state at the historic Westminster Hall since Wednesday, and people from all walks of life and from around the country and overseas have queued for hours to file past her coffin in a constant, emotional stream.

As Biden took his place on the balcony alongside his wife Jill, he made the sign of the cross before briefly placing his hand on his heart.

The U.S. president will later join King Charles and other leaders from around the globe for a reception ahead of the grand state funeral.

"Her legacy will loom large in the pages of British history, and in the story of our world," Biden said in a message following news of the queen's death.

Biden was one of the 14 U.S. presidents in office during her 70-year reign, of which Elizabeth met all except Lyndon Johnson, starting with Harry Truman in 1951 when she was still a princess.

Biden will join presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and sultans representing nearly 200 countries and territories at the funeral. French President Emmanuel Macron was seen walking near the River Thames earlier on Sunday, mingling with those gathered in the streets around parliament.

'Love for a son'

For all the high ceremony and careful diplomacy of the funeral, for the queen's family, it is also when they will bid farewell to a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Prince Andrew, the queen's second son, paid tribute to "Mummy, Mother, Your Majesty" on Sunday, reflecting the roles he said Elizabeth fulfilled during her reign.

"Mummy, your love for a son, your compassion, your care, your confidence I will treasure forever," he said.

Andrew has fallen from grace, stripped of the "His Royal Highness" title and removed from royal duties after a scandal over his friendship with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, and a related sex assault allegation.

Andrew, Duke of York, has not been charged with any criminal offence and has denied any wrongdoing. He paid to settle a U.S. civil court case.

On Saturday evening, his two daughters joined the queen's other six grandchildren, including Charles' sons Princes William and Harry, at a vigil around her coffin.

Camilla, wife of the new king and now Queen Consort, said the smile of the late queen was "unforgettable", in her own tribute on Sunday.

Clamouring crowds

Monday's funeral and the period of mourning has already drawn hundreds of thousands of people to central London's streets and parks, with many clamouring to view floral tributes and experience the atmosphere.

The government advised against travelling to join the queue to see the coffin before the line closes later on Sunday.

Such has been the desire to pay tribute to the popular monarch, the only one most Britons have known since her accession in 1952, that tens of thousands have waited patiently for hours alongside the Thames to spend a few brief seconds at the side of her coffin.

Dignitaries have also taken their place on a balcony to view her lying-in-state, with leaders from Canada, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere having already paid their respects.

"Everybody's there for one person, to mark what she's done for people and whatever way they felt she touched them or their country," said Darren Luckhurst, a 49-year-old headteacher.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the "sheer silence" was one of the things that made the lying in state so moving, adding that she had shared her moment beside the coffin on Friday with people who had queued for 20 hours or longer.

"The queen was here for her people and now her people are there for her," she told the BBC on Sunday.

Prince William joined his father Charles to speak to mourners waiting in line on Saturday. "She wouldn't believe all this, she really wouldn't," he said. "It's amazing."

Moment of reflection

Britain has hosted a series of carefully choreographed ceremonies in the 10 days that have followed Elizabeth's death, reflecting the traditions and pageantry of a royal family whose lineage stretches back almost 1,000 years.

A minute of national silence will be held at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Sunday, marked by the striking of Big Ben, which towers over Westminster Hall.

London's police force has described the funeral ceremony as the biggest security operation it has ever undertaken.

Members of the public were camping out to secure positions on the procession route and near Westminster Abbey, the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens since William I in 1066.

Britain has not held a state funeral on the scale planned for the queen since that for World War Two leader Winston Churchill in 1965.

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