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LONDON – Even in death, Queen Elizabeth II has conscript powers.
World leaders, including US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron, descended on the British capital to pay their respects to the late monarch on Sunday, as the country prepares to shed its head of state in grand style for seven decades to adopt.
The leaders landed over the weekend ahead of the royal funeral, which will take place at Westminster Abbey at 11am local time on Monday, before a funeral service later in the afternoon.
Some of those gathered joined members of the public at Westminster Hall to pay their respects to the Queen, whose coffin is kept at Westminster’s old Palace until Monday morning.
Biden was applauded as he and his wife Jill arrived in front of the Houses of Parliament in the President’s car. He appeared with the first lady on the balcony overlooking Queen Elizabeth’s coffin late Sunday afternoon.
The US President signed the official book of condolences for the late monarch at Lancaster House, paying tribute to someone whose loss he said “leaves a huge hole” and reminded him of his own mother.
He added: “Sometimes you think you’ll never get over it, but like I told the king, she will be with him every step of the way, every minute, every moment and that’s a comforting thought. To all the people of England, to all the people of the UK, our hearts go out to you. And you were lucky enough to have her for 70 years, we all were. The world is better for them.”
Macron, meanwhile, was seen walking out of Parliament with his wife, and the French president told reporters he was in London to “share the pain of Britons”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, were among those who visited Westminster Hall to see the Queen lying in the state .
On Sunday evening, heads of state and dignitaries including Biden and the First Lady will attend a reception hosted by the new King Charles III.
While most heads of state paid inconspicuous visits, Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan came under fire after he was caught being photographed at the foot of the late monarch’s coffin, in violation of the strict no-phone rule enforced in of the property is in effect, the Sun newspaper reported on Sunday.
The funeral of the only monarch most Britons have known is expected to bring central London to a standstill and includes the biggest security operation the capital has ever seen.
Liz Truss, who has been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for less than two weeks, met the King at Buckingham Palace and is expected to mark a national “moment of reflection” for the Queen outside No 10 Downing Street.
On the buses
Despite all the heartfelt words from visiting dignitaries, there will be some notable absences from Westminster Abbey on Monday.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, is unlikely to attend the funeral at Westminster Abbey, Foreign Office sources told Reuters on Sunday. Riyadh is expected to be represented by Prince Turki bin Mohammed al Saud instead. The invitation to Bin Salman was controversial following the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Russia’s Vladimir Putin was not invited.
British organizers also had a diplomatic row over the logistics of bringing a host of world leaders to an event in the heart of the British capital.
Britain’s Foreign Office faced a backlash after instructions to foreign embassies received from POLITICO stipulated that leaders “will be required” to park their personal vehicles at a location in west London and instead come to the funeral in shared buses, citing safety and road restrictions.
Reports emerged last week that some members of the Middle East and North African royal family were unlikely to travel to London due to the edict. A Kuwaiti official told the Guardian: “If the king came to our neighborhood we would not put him on a bus. Expecting boyfriends of King Charles to all gather like schoolboys on a bus to go to the funeral isn’t the start we expected. That’s why some of us stay away.”
Downing Street later said US President Biden would not have to take the bus to Westminster Abbey – a move that sparked anger from some nations, who were demanding the same treatment.
Still other world leaders were more relaxed. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday the proposal “just makes sense”.
“I don’t think the bus is making too much of a fuss,” she told the BBC.