New Zealand says farewell to Sir Edmund Hillary
UPDATE: A funeral service has been held in New Zealand for Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who conquered Everest.
Hundreds of people, including dignitaries from around the world,
packed St Mary's church in Auckland to farewell Hillary, who died from
a heart attack earlier this month, aged 88.
As the service began, Prime Minister Helen Clark sat with Lady June Hillary and other members of the Hillary family.
Before them Hillary's casket was draped with a New Zealand flag and covered in Nepalese khadas - Buddhist prayer scarves.
Across New Zealand, flags fluttered at half-mast.
The state funeral got under way after the ringing of a bell from
HMNZS Endeavour, the ship that took Hillary to Antarctica in 1956 to
set up Scott Base.
Dignitaries from countries including Australia, Russia, the United
States, Nepal and India were present at Tuesday's service, which began
at 11am local time (9am AEDT).
The iconic New Zealander was a bee-keeper who sprang to
international fame after becoming the first person to climb Mount
Everest, with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay, in 1953.
Before the ceremony, thousands line up to view his coffin, which lay in state in Auckland.
The line of well-wishers snaked around the Holy Trinity Cathedral, in Auckland, as ordinary Kiwis waited to enter.
Inside, a naval guard of honour stood with heads bowed at the four corners of the Mount Everest conqueror's coffin.
Governor General Anand Satyanand laid a wreath in
front of the coffin on behalf of the Queen. Others were laid by the
prime minister, Helen Clark, and other New Zealand politicians.
Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand
and Tibet have also paid tribute to Sir Edmund. A "puja" prayer was
chanted for an hour outside the cathedral in his honour.
"We are celebrating a very great life," Mrs
Clark said shortly after Sir Edmund's New Zealand flag-draped coffin
was welcomed to the cathedral by the local Ngati Whatua tribe,
performing a traditional haka.
Maori women in traditional black, wearing green willow wreaths on their heads, sang.
There was some dismay that no members of the UK royal family were due to attend the funeral.
The New Zealand Herald reported:
Opposition leader John Key said it was "disappointing" no members of the British royal family would be attending Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral next week, as public anger grew over what some are seeing as a snub to one of the country's greatest sons.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman announced that the Queen would not be
attending and would be represented by Governor-General Anand Satyanand
at the funeral on Tuesday.
The family has been offered instead a private service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.