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 September 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.
After witnessing the sombre scene, the US leader, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, French President Emmanuel Macron and other heads of state from around the world headed for a reception with King Charles III.
Biden, who flew in late Saturday, has said the queen, who reigned for a record-breaking 70 years until her death on September 8 aged 96, “defined an era”.
Australia’s anti-monarchy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who viewed the lying-in-state and met Charles on Saturday, told Sky News Australia that the queen was “a constant reassuring presence”.
There was also a private audience at Buckingham Palace for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, which like Australia and 12 other Commonwealth realms now counts Charles as its sovereign.
“You could see that it meant a huge amount (to Charles) to have seen the sheer scale and outpouring of people’s love and affection for her late Majesty,” she told BBC television Sunday.
But in a sign of challenges ahead for the new king, Ardern added that she expected New Zealand to ditch the UK monarchy “over the course of my lifetime”.
Leaders from Russia, Afghanistan, Myanmar not invited Biden will join presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and sultans representing nearly 200 countries and territories at the funeral on Monday.
French President Macron was seen walking near the River Thames earlier on Sunday, mingling with those gathered in the streets around parliament.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, is no longer expected to attend, reported Reuters, quoting an unnamed British government source. Inviting the man Western leaders believe ordered the murder in 2018 of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been controversial. The Saudi crown prince has denied any role in the killing.
Britain has invited heads of state or ambassadors from any country with which it has full diplomatic relations, but it is up to those nations who they send. The change was made by Saudi Arabia, the source added.
Leaders from Russia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and North Korea were not invited to join the 2,000 guests.
Moscow’s foreign ministry last week called the decision “deeply immoral”, and “blasphemous” to the queen’s memory. China will attend at the abbey, but was barred by parliamentary leaders from the lying-in-state.