April 13, 2005

Monaco prepares for funeral of Prince Rainier

MONACO - Monaco prepared to say farewell to long-time ruler Prince Rainier with a solemn funeral in the Mediterranean statelet's cathedral, attended by a smattering of European royals and political figures.

French President Jacques Chirac and Britain's Prince Andrew are among the dignitaries expected to attend the midday ceremony at Monaco's cathedral, perched atop a cliff not far from the Grimaldi family's palace.

A host of European royals will join Andrew, including King Albert II of Belgium, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Sonja of Norway, and Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands.

The 81-year-old Rainier -- who ruled the principality from 1949 and was the world's second longest-reigning monarch after the king of Thailand -- died on April 6 after a month in hospital battling heart, lung and kidney problems.

In his more than 55 years in power he is credited with turning Monaco from a Riviera Ruritania into a thriving center of tourism and banking, using his contacts and acumen to diversify the economy and pull in business investment.

But Rainier touched the world with his fairy-tale marriage to Oscar-winning US actress Grace Kelly, which ended in tragedy when Grace died in a car crash in 1982. He will be interred next to his beloved wife in the cathedral's crypt.

Authorities have stepped up security in Monaco ahead of Friday's funeral, with an increased police presence and traffic restricted in the old city, where the palace and cathedral are located.

Only native Monegasques will be allowed to fill the square in front of the palace on Friday to pay tribute to Rainier. Police said they were expecting some 3,000 people to turn out.

Airspace over the tiny principality nestled on the French Riviera will be totally closed, with helicopters and jets monitoring the area. The Monaco coast will be off-limits on Friday, and its two ports closed.

Some 1,200 French riot police have been deployed to ensure the safe passage of dignitaries from the airport in the French Riviera city of Nice to nearby Monaco for the funeral, officials said.

The body of Rainier has been lying in state in the palace chapel since Sunday, and mourners can pay their last respects through Wednesday.

"He was like a member of the family," said Italian resident Silvia Costetti, who came with her 15-year-old son to the chapel.

Monaco has declared a three-month mourning period through July 6 for members of the royal family and household -- half that accorded to Princess Grace -- with one month for civil servants.

Meanwhile, Prince Ernst August of Hanover, the husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, is recovering from acute inflammation of the pancreas and could soon leave hospital, aides said Wednesday.

"The evolution of his condition is favorable. The prince should leave the hospital soon," a source in his entourage said.

Caroline is one of Rainier and Grace's three children. Their only son, Albert, 47, has succeeded his father as Monaco's ruler.

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