John Paul II's coffin brought out before beatification

Pope John Paul II's coffin is removed from its crypt in St Peter's Basilica

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The Vatican has brought out Pope John Paul II's coffin in the crypt under St Peter's Basilica ahead of his beatification on Sunday.

It was placed near St Peter's tomb, and will go on display before the main altar during the ceremony, after which it will be re-interred elsewhere.

Beatification is a step towards declaring the late pontiff a saint.

The Vatican has confirmed Zimbabwe's controversial President, Robert Mugabe, will attend despite an EU travel ban.

Mr Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, also attended John Paul II's funeral in 2005 despite the ban, imposed over human rights abuses.

The Vatican is a sovereign state which is not an EU member although it issues euro coins bearing the Pope's head.

However, the Zimbabwean leader, 87, will have to transit the Italian capital, Rome.

John Paul II, whose papacy lasted 27 years, died on 2 April 2005 after battling Parkinson's disease.

Jewish tribute

In all, 22 world leaders will be in Rome to celebrate the beatification of the Polish-born Pope.

A Vatican spokesman said 87 international delegations had so far indicated they would be attending Sunday's solemn ceremony in St Peter's Square.

They include members of five European royal families, including the British Royal Family who will be represented by the Duke of Gloucester.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims - including up to a quarter of a million from Poland alone - are expected to cram the square.

A number of Jews including an Israeli cabinet minister will also attend, in a sign of appreciation for the late religious leader's efforts to overcome tensions between the two faiths.

"We have a high respect, a unique respect for John Paul," Yossi Peled, minister without portfolio, told the Associated Press news agency on Friday.

"He is not just another pope for us."

Mr Peled, a retired general born in 1941, lost most of his family in the Nazi Holocaust but was hidden by a Belgium family who raised him as a Christian.

His mother was the only member of his family to survive Auschwitz and reclaimed him when he was eight.

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