America mourns President Reagan

A mourning America began preparations for the country's first presidential state funeral in more than 30 years yesterday, to honour Ronald Reagan, the Republican president known to his country as the Gipper.

Flags across the country were at half mast as the body of the 40th president lay in a morgue near his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, before being taken today to lie in state at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley. It will then be flown to Washington, where Mr Reagan will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda for two days. The state funeral will be held at Washington National Cathedral on Friday, after which the former president will make his final journey back to California.

As Mr Reagan and his family had wished, he will be buried at a private ceremony at sunset the same evening, in the grounds of the library.

The funeral is likely to be attended by many of the world's leaders, some of whom will already be in the United States, attending the G8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia.

The former Hollywood actor and California governor, who occupied the White House from 1981 to 1989, died at home on Saturday, surrounded by his family. At 93 he had lived longer than any president in US history.

He had spent the past decade in a forlorn battle with Alzheimer's disease. "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him," Nancy, his wife of 52 years, said just a month before the end.

Tributes flowed in from around the world. Margaret Thatcher, his ally, friend and fellow icon for conservatives, called him "a truly great American hero". Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader whose five summits with Mr Reagan between 1985 and 1988 produced deep nuclear arms cuts and hastened the end of the Cold War, praised the former president as "a great leader", who had helped to launch a new era in relations between the superpowers.

About the only critical comment came from the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Though his country has mended some fences with the US, Col Gaddafi said he regretted Mr Reagan had not been tried for war crimes in the 1986 air attacks on Tripoli, in which dozens died. They were in retaliation for a bombing of a Berlin nightclub, allegedly carried out by Libya, in which two US soldiers died.

Mr Reagan's body was brought to the morgue in a coffin draped with the US flag. A fountain in front of the building quickly became an unofficial shrine. Soldiers kept watch from the roof of a building across the street.

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