Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin arrives at Buckingham Palace

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin returned to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night, making its way through rainy London as crowds lined the route to see the hearse and bid it a final farewell.

People parked their cars along a normally busy street, stepped out and waved as the hearse, with lights inside illuminating the flag-draped coffin, headed for London. In the city, people huddled on the road and held up their phones as they passed.

Thousands outside the palace cheered and shouted “God save the queen!” and she cheered as the hearse rounded a roundabout outside the Queen’s official London residence and passed through the wrought-iron gates. Her son, King Carlos III, and other immediate family members were waiting inside.

The coffin traveled to London from Edinburgh, where 33,000 people silently paraded before it for 24 hours at St. Giles’ Cathedral after it had been brought there from its prized summer retreat, Balmoral. The queen, the only monarch many in the UK have known, died there on September 8 at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne.

The military C-17 Globemaster carrying the coffin landed at RAF Northolt, an air force base in west London, about an hour after leaving Edinburgh. UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and a military honor guard were at the base for the arrival.

One who stood in the rain waiting for the hearse to pass, retired bus driver David Stringer, 82, recalled seeing the queen’s coronation on a newsreel as a child.

“It’s a huge shame,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t think of her every day, but I always knew she was there, and my life is coming to an end for her now and her time is over.”

The coffin will be taken by horse-drawn carriage on Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state for four days before Monday’s funeral at Westminster Abbey.

“Scotland has now said a sad but fond farewell to our Queen of Scotland,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said. “We will never see her like this again.”

Charles had returned to London from Northern Ireland, where his visit sparked a rare moment of unity among politicians in a region with a disputed British and Irish identity that is deeply divided over the monarchy.

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The new king is making his own trip this week, visiting the four nations of the UK: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Hundreds of people gathered around Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, the royal family’s official residence in Northern Ireland, in the latest show of affection after the queen’s death. The area in front of the castle gates was carpeted with hundreds of floral offerings.

Charles and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, got out of their car to wave to the crowd, sometimes using both hands to reach out to villagers, including schoolchildren in bright blue uniforms. Charles even petted a corgi, his late mother’s famous favorite breed of dog, held by a person, with some chanting “God save the king!”

“Today means so much to me and my family, just being in my hometown with my children to witness the arrival of the new king is a truly historic moment for all of us,” said Hillsborough resident Robin Campbell.

While there was a warm welcome in Hillsborough, the British monarchy generates mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: mostly Protestant Unionists who consider themselves British and mostly Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish. .

That divide fueled three decades of violence known as “the Troubles” involving paramilitary groups on both sides and UK security forces, in which 3,600 people were killed. The royal family was personally affected by the violence: Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin and Charles’s much-loved mentor, was assassinated by an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1979.

A deep sectarian divide remains, a quarter of a century after the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal.

For some Irish nationalists, the monarch represents an oppressive foreign power. But others acknowledge the queen’s role in forging peace. On a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, she shook hands with Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, a moment of reconciliation once unthinkable. On Tuesday, the new king shook hands with Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill.

In a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, Sinn Fein representatives attended memorial events for the queen and met the king on Tuesday.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein politician who is president of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the queen had “shown how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and foster reconciliation”.

Charles replied that she had tried to play a part “in uniting those whom history had separated and in reaching out a hand to make possible the healing of long wounds”.

He said he would be inspired by his mother’s “brilliant example” and “seek the welfare of all Northern Irelanders”.

Still, not everyone was welcoming the new king.

On Falls Road in Belfast, a nationalist stronghold, several walls are decorated with murals of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who died during a prison hunger strike in 1981, and others killed in the riots.

“No, he is not our king. Bobby Sands was our king here,” said Bobby Jones, 52. “Queen never did anything for us. She never did. None of the royals do.

Irish leaders attended a reflection service at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast despite strained relations between Dublin and London over Brexit. Since Britain left the European Union in 2020, the UK and the EU have been arguing over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with a member of the bloc.

Before flying to London, the queen’s oak coffin was carried from St. Giles’ Cathedral to the sound of bagpipes. Crowds lining the Royal Mile through Edinburgh’s historic heart broke into applause as the coffin, accompanied by the Queen’s daughter Princess Anne, was driven to Edinburgh Airport.

“I was lucky enough to share the last 24 hours of my dear mother’s life,” Princess Anne said in a statement. “It has been an honor and a privilege to accompany her on her last trips. Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these trips has been both humbling and uplifting.”

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