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Public Viewing for Queen Elizabeth Begins at Westminster Hall

Yesenia Harris



Massive crowds converged on London to see the Queen’s coffin move in a horse-drawn carriage to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state.

Queen Elizabeth left Buckingham Palace for the last time on Wednesday, her coffin carried on a horse-drawn carriage and saluted by cannons and the tolling of Big Ben, in a solemn procession through the flag-draped, crowd-lined streets of London to Westminster Hall. There, Britain’s longest-serving monarch will lie in state for the world to mourn.

Her son, King Charles, and his siblings and sons marched behind the coffin, which was topped by a wreath of white roses and her crown resting on a purple velvet pillow.

The Queen will lie in state for four days until her funeral Monday, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to file past. Eight pallbearers carried the oak and lead-lined coffin into Westminster Hall, placing it on a raised platform known as a catafalque.

King Charles, front, and his son, Prince William, Prince of Wales, walk behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth, adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown and pulled by a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, in London, on Wednesday. (Daniel Leal/Reuters)

Shortly after 5 p.m. local time, members of the public were allowed to file past the coffin, in the centre of the vast medieval hall. People flowed in two lines in a silent river of humanity.

They moved down steps under the hall’s great stained-glass window, then past the coffin at a steady pace. There were parents with children, couples hand in hand, veterans with medals clinking on navy blue blazers, lawmakers and members of the House of Lords.

Some wore black or suits and ties, others jeans and sneakers. They had waited hours for a journey past the coffin that lasted only a few minutes.

Many were in tears as they approached the casket. Some doffed their hats and one curtseyed. One fell to one knee and blew a kiss.

The military procession from Buckingham Palace was designed to underscore the Queen’s seven decades as head of state as the national mourning process shifted to the grand boulevards and historic landmarks of the U.K. capital.

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth arrived on Wednesday at Westminster Hall in London from Buckingham Palace for her lying in state after a nearly 40-minute procession. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Thousands of people who had waited for hours along The Mall outside the palace and other locations along the route held up phones and cameras, and some wiped away tears, as the procession passed. Applause broke out as it went through Horse Guards Parade. Thousands more sat in nearby Hyde Park watching on large screens.

The coffin was draped in the Royal Standard and topped with the Imperial State Crown — adorned with almost 3,000 diamonds — and a bouquet of flowers and plants including pine from the Balmoral Estate, where Elizabeth died last week at the age of 96.

Two officers and 32 troops from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in red uniforms and bearskin hats walked on either side of the gun carriage.

The 38-minute procession ended at Westminster Hall, where Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby led a short service attended by Charles and other royals.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you,” Welby said, reading from the Book of John.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince William, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry pay their respects in the Palace of Westminster after the procession for the lying-in-state of Queen Elizabeth. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

After a short service, the captain of The Queen’s Company 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, assisted by a senior sergeant, laid the Royal Standard of the regiment on the steps of the catafalque.

Four officers from the Household Cavalry — two from the Life Guards and two from the Blues Royals — began the first vigil around the coffin, taking their places at the corner and bowing their heads.

Thousands had queued up along the banks of the River Thames, waiting to enter the hall and pay their respects.

WATCH | Unprecedented security challenges for a royal funeral:

Queen’s funeral a ‘massive security task,’ says analyst

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Security preparations for the Queen’s funeral on Monday are on a scale not seen, even in London, because of the vast crowds and the concentration of world leaders in the same space, says former military intelligence officer Philip Ingram.

The crowds are the latest manifestation of the nationwide outpouring of grief and respect for the only monarch most Britons have ever known after her 70 years on the throne.

Esther Ravenor, a Kenyan who lives in the U.K., said she was humbled as she watched the procession.

“I love the Queen, I love the Royal Family, and you know, I had to be here,” she said. “She is a true role model. She loved us all, all of us. Especially someone like me, a migrant woman coming to the U.K. 30 years ago, I was allowed to be here and to be free and safe, so I really honour her. She was a big part of my life.”

Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika of the Household division, who organized the ceremonial aspects of the Queen’s funeral, said it was “our last opportunity to do our duty for the Queen and it’s our first opportunity to do it for the King, and that makes us all very proud.”

Troops involved in the procession had been preparing since the Queen died. So had the horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

Crowds were gathered several person deep along the Mall in London ahead of the ceremonial procession of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. (Aaron Clown/PA/The Associated Press)

Sgt. Tom Jenks, from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, said the horses were specially trained, including how to handle weeping mourners, as well as flowers and flags being tossed in front of the procession.

London’s Heathrow Airport temporarily halted flights, saying it would “ensure silence over central London as the ceremonial procession moves from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.”

Crowds have lined the route of the Queen’s coffin whenever it has been moved in its long journey from Scotland to London.

On Tuesday night, thousands braved a typical London drizzle as the state hearse, with interior lights illuminating the casket, drove slowly from a military air base into the heart of London.

Members of the public join the queue on the South Bank in London, as they wait to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state ahead of her funeral. (Stefan Rousseau/PA/The Associated Press)

Earlier, in Edinburgh, some 33,000 people filed in silent respect past her coffin as it lay for 24 hours at St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest building in Parliament, for four days before her state funeral on Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, the line snaking along the banks of the River Thames was nearly five kilometres long, according to a government tracker.

WATCH | ‘Your heart starts pounding’: High emotions at Edinburgh viewing:

Mourners describe ‘spiritual experience’ viewing Queen’s casket in Scotland

17 hours ago

The lineup to spend just a few moments in silence beside the casket of Queen Elizabeth stretched for kilometres in Edinburgh, but those who made it through described having a spirtual, even surreal experience inside.

The hall is where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried, where kings and queens hosted magnificent medieval banquets and where ceremonial addresses were presented to Queen Elizabeth during her silver, golden and diamond jubilees.

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Battle Rages in Ukraine Over Salt Town of Soledar

Yesenia Harris



The fate of a devastated salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine hung in the balance Wednesday as Ukraine said its forces were holding out against a furious Russian onslaught in what has become one of the fiercest and most costly battles in the almost 11-month war.

Though unlikely to provide a turning point in the war, Soledar’s fall to Russian forces after months of Ukrainian defence would be a prize for the Kremlin, which has been starved of good news from the battlefield amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive in recent months. It would also offer Russian troops a strategic springboard for their efforts to encircle the nearby city of Bakhmut.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that airborne units had cut off Soledar from the north and south.

But Ukraine denied that the town, with a pre-war population of around 10,000, had fallen.

Incoming artillery relentless: witness

“Heavy fighting continues in Soledar,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram. “The enemy has again replaced its units after sustaining losses, has increased the number of Wagner fighters and is trying to burst through our forces’ defence and fully seize the city, but is not having success.”

The Kremlin also stopped short of claiming victory and acknowledged heavy casualties.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation in Soledar. But a Reuters photographer who has reached the outskirts in recent days said many residents had fled along roads out of the town in punishing cold.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Finnish 120-mm mortar toward Russian positions at the front line near Bakhmut on Wednesday. (Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press)

She said plumes of smoke could be seen rising over the town and the incoming artillery fire was relentless. Ambulances were waiting to receive the wounded along the road from Soledar to Bakhmut, and there was chaos in field hospitals.

‘Small town with great significance,’ Russian TV says

Denis Pushilin, leader of the Russian-controlled part of Donetsk province, said Soledar’s capture would open a prospect of seizing more significant towns farther west in what Russia has recognized as the Donetsk People’s Republic — centre of Ukrainian heavy industry and one of the four provinces Russia claims to have annexed.

“And this is actually a turning point. Now preparations are underway for the moment we have been waiting for — the liberation of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” Pushilin said.

Soledar was the main item on Russian state television news, which rarely mentions Russian reverses. Combative talk-show host Olga Skabeyeva called it a “small town with great significance.”

Ukrainian soldiers watch as smoke billows during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Soledar. (Libkos/The Associated Press)

Analysts were more equivocal.

Soledar’s fall would make “holding Bakhmut much more precarious for Ukraine,” Michael Kofman, the director of Russia Studies at the CAN nonprofit research organization in Arlington, Va., noted Wednesday.

But the costly war of attrition, with expected heavy casualties, may make Russia’s victory as costly as a defeat.

“I don’t think the outcome at Bakhmut is that significant compared to what it costs Russia to achieve it,” Kofman said in a tweet.

The Institute for the Study of War says Russian forces are up against “concerted Ukrainian resistance” around Bakhmut.

“The reality of block-by-block control of terrain in Soledar is obfuscated by the dynamic nature of urban combat … and Russian forces have largely struggled to make significant tactical gains in the Soledar area for months,” the think-tank said.

The collapse of Soledar “would not mean the Ukrainian defensive line or front have collapsed and that it would be necessary to fall back to new defensive lines,” said Oleksandr Musiyenko, a Kyiv-based analyst.

Ukrainian servicemen administer first aid to a wounded soldier in a shelter in Soledar. (Roman Chop/The Associated Press)

The Wagner Group, which now reportedly includes a large contingent of convicts recruited in Russian prisons, has spearheaded the attack on Soledar and Bakhmut. Western intelligence has estimated that the Wagner Group constitutes up to a quarter of all Russian combatants in Ukraine.

Late Tuesday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, claimed in audio reports posted on his Russian social media platform that his forces had seized control of Soledar, though he also said that battles were continuing in a “cauldron” in the city’s centre.

Cavernous mines could hide troops, weapons

The Russian state news agency RIA said Wagner had taken over Soledar’s salt mines, and a photograph posted on Wagner’s Telegram channel appeared to show Prigozhin and his fighters inside a mine.

Soledar’s cavernous mines are owned by state-owned enterprise Artemsil, which dominated the Ukrainian salt market until it halted production a few months after Russia invaded. The mines reach a depth of 200-300 metres and have tunnels with a combined length of 300 kilometres, according a local tourist website.

Ukrainian serviceman Hryhorii, 42, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade emerges from a German howitzer near Soledar on Wednesday. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

The enterprise was once considered one of the largest in eastern Europe and exported salt to 20 countries. A hot air balloon was once flown inside one of the mines to demonstrate their depth.

The salt mines could serve as a commercially lucrative asset and also be used to store ammunition and weapons out of range of Ukrainian missiles.

A U.S. official said last week that Prigozhin was interested in taking control of salt and gypsum from mines near Bakhmut. Prigozhin has himself spoken of Bakhmut’s “underground cities,” saying they can hold troops and tanks.

A success in Soledar and Bakhmut would help Prigozhin, who has openly criticized Russia’s military leadership, to increase his clout at the Kremlin.

Russia illegally annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian provinces in September, but its troops have struggled to advance. After Ukrainian forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson in November, the battle heated up around Bakhmut.

WATCH | CBC’s Chris Brown in Kyiv on the battle for Soledar:

Intense battle for Ukrainian salt-mining town

5 hours ago

The CBC’s Chris Brown is in Ukraine and reports on the intense fight for the eastern salt-mining town of Soledar, which is now under furious assault from Russia.

Other news from the war

Russian forces continued their shelling elsewhere, including 13 settlements in and around Kharkiv region that were largely returned to Ukrainian hands in September and October, the Ukrainian military said.Ukraine introduced emergency power cuts in eastern and southeastern regions on Wednesday as low temperatures and difficult weather conditions stretched the country’s crippled energy system, officials said.Russia’s still making plenty of money from oil sales despite a price cap imposed by the Group of Seven major democracies. Researchers at Helsinki’s Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said the price cap and a ban on most oil shipments to Europe are costing Russia an estimated $172 million US a day. But Russia is still taking in around $688 million a day.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke in a recorded message at Tuesday night’s Golden Globes ceremony. “There will be no third World War,” Zelenskyy said, predicting Russia’s defeat. “It is not a trilogy.”

A woman walks past anti-tank construction in the centre of Kyiv on Wednesday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

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Russia Intensifies Attacks on Strategic City of Kherson and Eastern Ukraine

Yesenia Harris



Russian forces stepped up mortar and artillery attacks on the recently liberated city of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said, while also exerting constant pressure along front lines in eastern regions of the country.

Russia fired 33 missiles from multiple rocket launchers at civilian targets in Kherson in the 24 hours to early Wednesday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its morning report. Russia denies targeting civilians.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Tuesday released a count of civilian casualties related to the war in Ukraine. It said 6,884 people are known to have died, including 429 children, between Feb. 24, when the invasion began, to Dec. 26. The OHCR put the number of injured at 10,947.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons, it said in a statement.

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“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” the statement said.

Heavy fighting also persisted on Wednesday around the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, now largely in ruins, in the eastern province of Donetsk, and to its north, around the cities of Svatove and Kreminna in Luhansk province, where Ukrainian forces are trying to break Russian defensive lines.

Nationwide air raid sirens

Air raid sirens also sounded across Ukraine on Wednesday morning, officials said. Ukrainian social media reports said the nationwide alert may have been declared after Russian jets stationed in Belarus took off. Reuters was unable to immediately verify that information.

Britain’s defence ministry said in its latest update on the military situation in Ukraine that Russia had likely reinforced the Kreminna section of the front line as it is logistically important to Moscow and has become relatively vulnerable following recent Ukrainian advances farther west.

There is still no prospect of talks to end the war, now in its 11th month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is vigorously pushing a 10-point peace plan that envisages Russia fully respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and pulling out all its troops, something Moscow refuses to contemplate.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday he was open to negotiations but only on his terms, which include Ukraine accepting the loss of four regions — Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. Together, they comprise about a fifth of Ukraine’s territory.

The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed Zelenskyy’s plan. Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “There can be no peace plan for Ukraine that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia. Plans that do not take these realities into account cannot be peaceful.”

Russia declared Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as part of its territory in September after referendums condemned by Ukraine and Western countries. Russia does not fully control any of the four regions.

‘Pressure from the enemy has intensified’

“There has been very little change in terms of the front line but pressure from the enemy has intensified, both in terms of the numbers of men and the type and quantity of equipment,” said Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

Zhdanov said that fighting had intensified with Russia deploying armoured vehicles and tanks.

Russian forces abandoned Kherson city last month in one of Ukraine’s most significant gains of the war. Kherson region, located at the mouth of the mighty Dnipro River and serving as gateway to Russian-annexed Crimea, is strategically important.

The joy of Kherson residents over the city’s liberation has quickly given way to fear amid relentless Russian shelling from the east bank of the Dnipro, and many have since fled.

Russian forces shelled the maternity wing of a hospital in Kherson, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Zelenskyy’s deputy chief of staff, said on Telegram. No one was hurt and the staff and patients had been moved to a shelter, he added.

Workers are seen on Wednesday carrying furniture from a hospital maternity unit damaged by Russian shelling in Kherson, in southern Ukraine. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the report.

A Russian strike killed at least 10 people and wounded 58 in Kherson last Saturday, Ukraine said.

More shelling reported in Zaporizhzhia

In Wednesday’s report, Ukraine’s General Staff also reported further Russian shelling in Zaporizhzhia region and in the Sumy and Kharkiv regions of northeast Ukraine, near to the Russian border.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.

In Bakhmut, home to 70,000 people before the war and now a bombed-out ghost town, which Russia has been trying for months to storm at huge cost in lives, Reuters reporters this week saw fires burning in a large residential building. Debris littered the streets and the windows of most buildings were blown out.

“Our building is destroyed. There was a shop in our building, now it’s not there anymore,” said Oleksandr, 85, adding he was the only remaining resident there.

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Trump Reaffirms Support for Kevin McCarthy As Next U.S. House Speaker

Yesenia Harris



Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failed again to win the U.S. House speakership on Wednesday in dramatic fourth-round voting, as the chamber plunged into Day Two of the new Congress with no end in site to the political chaos Republicans have created.

McCarthy fared no better than he did on opening day ballots as conservative holdouts rejected him with their votes. No minds appeared to have changed, and he again fell far short of the 218 votes typically needed to win the gavel.

The California Republican vowed to keep fighting despite losing in multiple rounds of voting that threw the new majority into tumult a day earlier.

The House gavelled in at noon, and a McCarthy ally quickly re-nominated him for the job with a rousing speech designed to peel off detractors.

“Sure, it looks messy,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher. But democracy is messy, he said. “The American people are in charge.”

McCarthy himself entered the chamber saying, “We’ll have another vote.”

Florida Republican Byron Donalds speaks with reporters upon leaving the House on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. A day later his name was put forth as a nominee for Speaker. (Jon Cherry/Reuters)

But the dynamic proved no different from Day One. Democrats re-upped their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, for Speaker, and a right-flank leader from the Freedom Caucus offered another challenge to McCarthy — nominating Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, in another history-making moment. Both Jeffries and Donalds are Black.

“This country needs leadership,” said Rep. Chip Roy, the Texas Republican, noting the first time in history two Black Americans were nominated for the high office, and lawmakers from both parties rose to applaud.

The stalemate the day before was the first time in 100 years that a nominee for House Speaker could not take the gavel on the first vote.

Early Wednesday, former president Donald Trump urged Republicans to vote for McCarthy: “CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” he wrote on his social media site, Truth Social. He added: “REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT.”

WATCH | Latest Trump signal could prevent McCarthy from bleeding more support:

Growth of Freedom Caucus a danger to Kevin McCarthy, says reporter

2 hours ago

Joining the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus in opposing Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to become U.S. House Speaker could become a more palatable option for House Republicans because there is no obvious alternative, says Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake.

Trump, who while president once referred to McCarthy as “My Kevin,” still holds sway with large numbers of party members despite the spectre of legal challenges he faces, as well as his mixed record of endorsements in the recent midterms, which saw Republicans regain control of the House but fail to wrest the Senate majority from the Democrats.

The current president said House Republicans’ inability to unify behind a Speaker candidate, which has prevented the chamber from beginning its legislative business, was “embarrassing” and “not a good look” for the country.

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday ahead of a trip to Kentucky for an event to highlight last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, Joe Biden said of Republicans: “I hope they get their act together.”

Soon after Gallagher spoke in the chamber, Texas Republican Chip Roy rose to nominate Floridian Byron Donalds, whose name was not put forth at any time during Tuesday’s lengthy session. Donalds could therefore become the first Black Speaker of the House in U.S. history.

Opposition entrenched so far

The tumultuous start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House, with tensions flaring. Without a Speaker, the House cannot fully form — which includes swearing in its members, naming its committee chairs, engaging in floor proceedings and launching oversight into the Biden administration.

Republicans Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, seen Tuesday, both oppose McCarthy’s bid for the Speaker’s gavel. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Asked by a reporter late Tuesday if he would drop out, McCarthy said: “It’s not going to happen.”

It typically takes a majority of the House to become Speaker, 218 votes, although the threshold can drop if members are absent or merely vote present, a strategy McCarthy appeared to be considering. It’s not clear how long Democratic members would attend en masse.

If McCarthy could win 213 votes and then persuade the remaining naysayers to simply vote present, he would be able to lower the threshold required under the rules to have the majority. But he won no more than 203 votes in three rounds of voting on Tuesday, losing as many as 20 Republicans from his slim 222-seat majority.

WATCH | A recap of Tuesday’s tension-filled session:

Congress left paralyzed after Republicans fail to elect new Speaker

15 hours ago

Republicans failed to select a new U.S. Speaker of the House Tuesday, the first time in a century lawmakers in the majority party have failed to agree on a candidate. It leaves Capitol Hill unable to conduct business and the Republican party in disarray.

Not since 1923 has a Speaker’s election gone to multiple ballots, and the longest and most gruelling fight for the gavel started in late 1855 and dragged out for two months, with 133 ballots, during debates over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.

“Kevin McCarthy is not going to be a Speaker,” said Virginia Republican Bob Good.

Alternate candidates unclear

In all, eventually 20 Republicans on Tuesday voted for someone other than McCarthy. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan was twice pushed forward by conservatives, but has so far expressed disinterest in the role while supporting McCarthy.

The holdouts forced a third and final round of voting before Republican leaders quickly adjourned Tuesday evening.

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan speaks to reporters after Tuesday’s session. Some colleagues put his name forth as a Speaker candidate, but he has so far supported McCarthy’s bid. (Nathan Howard/Reuters)

Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the chair of the party’s Freedom Caucus and a leader of Trump’s effort to challenge the 2020 presidential election, had said earlier it was up to McCarthy to meet their demands and change the dynamic.

All 212 Democrats on Tuesday enthusiastically nominated Hakeem Jeffries, who is taking over as party leader from Nancy Pelosi, as their choice for Speaker — a typically symbolic gesture from the minority.

“We’re looking for a willing partner to solve problems for the American people, not save the Republicans from their dysfunction,” said Jeffries at the end of Tuesday’s chaotic session.

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