04/07/2005, 00.00

Rome flooded with pilgrims who want to pray before the body of the Pope

Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Rome authorities have urged pilgrims to stay away from the city centre, saying it cannot cope with any more before Friday's funeral of Pope John Paul II.

About four million visitors have descended on Rome - which has a population of three million - since the pontiff's death on Saturday, said city police chief Achille Serra.

About one million people are still waiting to see the Pope lying in state but the queue is now cut off to newcomers.

US President George W Bush has flown into Rome for the funeral, going immediately to St Peter's Basilica to pray before the body of the Pope.

"The number of people is growing constantly," Mr Serra told Reuters news agency. "This is unprecedented."

Some two million faithful were expected from Poland, the Pope's homeland, alone.

At its height, the tightly-packed queue of people wanting to see the Pope's body stretched back nearly 2km (1.2 miles).

Police formed a human chain around the end of the queue late on Wednesday to stop any more people joining it.

The last in the queue will have more than 15 hours to wait before they reach St Peter's Basilica and the Pope lying in state.

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