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Police State Out in Force for Pope's Funeral as Solar Eclipse Makes World Grow Dark

Security net cinched as pope’s funeral nears
Precautions include no-fly zone, extra police from across Italy

MSNBC News Services | April 6, 2005

VATICAN CITY - Italy prepared missiles and a warship on Wednesday to protect the world’s powerful at Pope John Paul II’s funeral as a ceaseless floodtide of pilgrims waited hours to pay their respects to the Polish pontiff.

Undeterred by the cold, hundreds of thousands of faithful stood packed together in line more than 12 hours overnight to enter St. Peter’s Basilica where the pope’s body lay on a simple bier near the grotto where he will be buried on Friday.

“I never, ever expected to take this long, but I have no regrets,” said Andres Chnostowski, a 36-year-old Polish immigrant living in Italy, as fog shrouded the basilica.

The funeral will bring together nearly 200 world leaders, some of whom rarely if ever meet, a fitting tribute to a Pope who fought for world peace and unity.

The chairs already laid out in St. Peter’s Square will seat President Bush near President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, one of the countries Bush included in his “axis of evil.”

Later this month, red-hatted cardinals will meet in conclave in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel to elect John Paul’s successor.

Although sworn to secrecy, cardinals have started sketching in public their preferences. Some believe the next pontiff should come from a developing country in the Southern Hemisphere, where two thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics live.

“It would be great, of course, if it were somebody from the vibrant South where the faith is lived with a great deal of enthusiasm,” said Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa.

Berlusconi: 'I’m anxious'
To protect the funeral guests, the 10,000 police normally deployed in Rome will be reinforced with nearly 6,500 additional agents from around Italy, the Interior Ministry said. About 5,000 will be deployed around the Vatican and Rome, with the rest providing escorts to the official delegations.

Provisions include armored cars, bomb-disposal teams with dogs, and 800 motorcycle escorts.

Rome is also drafting in a surveillance plane, anti-aircraft missiles and a warship off the Mediterranean coast. From Thursday, no aircraft will be allowed to fly over the Italian capital.

“Precautions have been taken for airports, stations and all the other places where people gather,” an official of the Rome prefect’s office, which is responsible for coordinating the security apparatus, told The Associated Press.

Radar is scanning the air for any irregular activity, ready to alert pilots on standby. Helicopters have begun regular patrols.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was concerned.

“Of course I’m anxious but only as much as you would be, as much as you should be,” he told reporters.

It was one week ago that Pope John Paul, who helped topple Communism in Europe and traveled more than any other pontiff, made his last public appearance, failing dramatically to utter words of blessing to a crowd outside his Vatican window.

Three days later, he died in his apartment of septic shock and heart failure.

Pilgrims pour in
Busloads were on their way from the pope’s native Poland. Ships and planes were bringing in many more.

There are 117 cardinals eligible to vote for the next pope at a secret conclave later this month. Almost all were elevated to be “princes of the Church” by John Paul, making it likely his conservative views will continue into the next papacy.

Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is leading bookmakers’ stakes but cardinals were keen to steer clear of any predictions.

The pope will be buried under St. Peter’s on the same spot as John XXIII, who died in 1963 but has since been beatified and moved up to the main level of the marble-lined basilica.

A Vatican spokesman said John Paul’s will could be opened when cardinals meet on Wednesday but ruled out the possibility of his body -- or parts of it -- being buried in Poland.

Italy’s leading news agency, Ansa, denied having issued a report attributed to it that is circulating on the Internet that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden would attend the pope’s funeral. It said the story was a hoax.

Partial solar eclipse on Friday

CNN | April 5, 2005

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Sky-watchers from the South Pacific to the Americas will witness the first solar eclipse of 2005 on Friday when the moon blots out part of the sun.

It will be a partial eclipse rather than a total one, in which the Earth is cast into darkness. But it will be the last partial solar eclipse visible from the continental United States until May 20, 2012.

Solar eclipses occur when the Earth, sun and moon line up in such a way that the moon casts a shadow over Earth.

Friday's eclipse will last from a few minutes to over an hour, depending on one's location. In much of the continental United States, people will see what looks like the moon taking a bite out of the sun, with the bite bigger over the South.

In Central America and the northern portion of South America, the sun will be reduced to a narrow ring of fire.

Astronomers warned people not to stare directly at the sun without eye protection.

"It's neat to see the moon take a bite of the sun," said Tom Fleming, an astronomer at the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Each eclipse is different because I remember who I was with and where I was when I was watching it."

The path of the eclipse will stretch about 14,160 kilometers (8,800 miles) through a corridor beginning near New Zealand and extending across the Americas.

For a while, the sun will be blotted out completely as the eclipse moves across the open Pacific, but it will be visible only to people at sea.

The next solar eclipse will be October 3, crossing the Iberian Peninsula to Africa.


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