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Reverence, grace as leaders gather for Bush funeral

People pay their respects as the remains of former US President George H. W. Bush lie in state in the US Capitol
Brendan Smialowski (AFP)
Finance minister Moshe Kahlon to represent Israeli government at Bush funeral in Washington

International dignitaries will join US leaders present and past in saying their final goodbyes to former president George H.W. Bush, whose life will be honored at a funeral service in Washington on Wednesday.

The nation's 41st president, who died Friday at age 94, has lain in state since late Monday in the US Capitol rotunda.

Tens of thousands of Americans have quietly filed in to pay their respects to a man who steered the nation through turbulent times including the end of the Cold War -- and in a style dramatically different from the bombast and combativeness championed by the current commander-in-chief, Donald Trump.

The country's five living presidents -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Bush's son George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump -- are scheduled to attend the service at Washington National Cathedral, the Neo-Gothic spiritual center point of the US capital.

Britain's Prince Charles will be there, as will German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan, and former Polish president Lech Walesa, among others.

Israel's finance minister Moshe Kahlon will represent the country's government at the service at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

BRETT COOMER (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File)

Despite the 41st US president's strained relationship with the Jewish state, Netanyahu expressed Israel's "heartfelt condolences", asserting that it "will always remember his commitment to Israel's security."

Bush is largely remembered as a foreign-policy president whose cautious realpolitik would later be contrasted with his son's costly and grand-scale ambition to transform the Middle East.

Trump's ascendancy to the head of the Republican Party saw him exchange vitriolic attacks with the Bushes, including mocking Bush senior's "thousand points of light" phrase and slamming the presidential son's 2003 invasion of Iraq as "one of the worst decisions in the history of our country."

But he has taken pains to demonstrate unity since Bush's death, and made a low-key visit to the Capitol late Monday with First Lady Melania Trump to salute Bush's casket.

And on the eve of the state funeral, the couple met with George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush at the presidential guest residence Blair House.

Trump's relations with the Republican establishment have been rocky since his insurgent campaign took him to the party's nomination and then a shock election win in 2016.

He did not attend the funeral this year of George H.W. Bush's wife Barbara Bush, even though other presidents were there.

MANDEL NGAN (AFP)

- 'Civility and good will' -

Trump has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning. Many federal offices will be closed along with Wall Street stock markets.

Congress has also suspended votes -- even in the midst of a looming potential shutdown that requires congressional action before midnight Friday.

The passing of Bush, only the second president to see his son follow him to the Oval Office, has led Americans to reflect on his life of duty and service to country as a leader of the so-called "Greatest Generation."

At a time of extraordinary and deep political fissures, Bush was looked to this week as a gracious, humble servant of country who aimed to bridge the divide.

"Quite frankly I think it's more important in many cases than the policies of a president," Monica Harisson, who worked eight years for the Reagan administration, told AFP.

"We can agree or disagree with the policies. But if we respect the human being, I think it's a much broader framework for civility and good will in the country."

AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File

Bush was a decorated World War II aviator who nearly lost his life when he was shot down on a bombing mission.

He served as ambassador to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president to Ronald Reagan before winning the White House.

The former president struggled for years with Parkinson's disease, which left him wheelchair-bound and often hospitalized -- including after Barbara's death.

After the Washington service, Bush's casket will be flown back to Houston. The former head of state will lie in repose at St Martin's Episcopal Church, where the Bushes worshipped for decades, until Thursday's funeral.

He will be interred at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center in College Station, Texas, next to his wife, who died in April, and their daughter Robin who died of leukemia at age three.

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