British military rehearses as royal wedding looms
Hundreds of members of the military took part Wednesday in a pre-dawn rehearsal for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton as Britain readied itself for the biggest royal event for 30 years.
Two billion people are expected to watch on television around the world on Friday to see the eldest son of Princess Diana and his bride tie the knot after a romance that began at university eight years ago.
Up to 1,000 army, navy and air force personnel in ceremonial uniform, with around 160 of them on horseback, paraded through London's empty streets and lined the procession route that the newlyweds will take.
Horse-drawn carriages and royal limousines including the Rolls Royce that will ferry Kate to Westminster Abbey also took part in the run-through. Organisers said the rehearsal went well.
It was to be followed by a musical rehearsal involving military bands, the orchestra and the two choirs that will sing during the ceremony, and a run-through for the broadcasters and clergy on Thursday.
Middleton was photographed early Wednesday driving her car from her family's home in the village of Bucklebury, west of London -- possibly the last time she will go there before the big day.
At the Goring Hotel in London, where the bride-to-be and her family will spend the night before the wedding, there were constant deliveries of flowers including geraniums, freesias, lilies and roses.
British police have launched a massive security operation for the wedding involving some 5,000 officers and warned that they will "robustly" deal with any protests during the wedding.
Muslims Against Crusades, a hardline Islamist group that had planned protests to disrupt the wedding, called off their action on Wednesday saying they feared they could be attacked.
"We believe the main issue is security for our people," campaign spokesman Abu Abbas said at an impromptu press conference outside parliament while members carried a banner saying: "Wanted: Prince William... Modern Day Nazi."
Rain is expected to fall on Friday but that is unlikely to dissuade hundreds of thousands of revellers, with the first die-hard royal fan, John Loughrey, camping out in front of the Abbey since Monday.
Kumar Iyer, a former bank worker from Thiruvananthapuram in southern India, said he had also been in London for the wedding of Diana and Prince Charles on July 29, 1981.
"People are very much excited now as they were then. We are lucky to be here at this time. William is very good and charming and his wife is very beautiful," he said.
But he added: "Poor Diana is not there to witness the marriage, that is sad."
The fervour around the ceremony partly reflects the public's enduring fascination with Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and whose emotional funeral was held at Westminster Abbey.
She and Charles -- the heir to Queen Elizabeth II -- divorced the previous year.
William, the 28-year-old second-in-line to the throne who works as a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, used Diana's engagement ring to propose last year to Kate, 29, the daughter of self-made millionaires.
Friday's ceremony will aim to bring closure to her tragic legacy and William and Kate have personally overseen "every detail" of their "exquisitely beautiful" wedding day, said St James's Palace, William's official residence.
Kate will be driven from her hotel to Westminster Abbey in the Rolls Royce that was damaged when protesters demonstrating against government cuts targeted Charles and his second wife Camilla in December.
William will have a nerve-wracking 45-minute wait there until the wedding starts at 1000 GMT.
Around 1,900 guests including foreign royals, politicians and celebrities such as Elton John, David and Victoria Beckham and Rowan Atkinson are set to attend.
Afterwards the newlyweds will lead a procession to Buckingham Palace, travelling past landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and the Mall, and are widely tipped to kiss on the palace balcony in front of the crowds.
Key details remain shrouded in mystery: the wedding dress has prompted acres of media speculation, while there is no news on what official titles the royal couple will take.
Some 650 guests have been invited to the reception at the palace, while the hottest ticket in town will be a dinner-dance hosted by Prince Charles for a lucky 300 or so people.
Thousands of street parties are planned while the British government has declared a public holiday and pubs are allowed to stay open late.
© 2011 AFP