The college of cardinals set Monday 18 April as the date for the beginning of the conclave to elect the new pope to succeed Pope John Paul II.

Meanwhile, detailed planning continues for the funeral at 10.00 on Friday, which will be led by Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the college of cardinals. Precise figures are not available but over 100 official delegations are expected to be in Rome. Dignitaries will include president of the United States George W. Bush; British prime minister Tony Blair; Prince Charles who has postponed his wedding by a day to attend; Syrian president Bashar al-Assad; Lebanons Emil Lahoud; the secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan; president of the European commission Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, and prime minister of Luxembourg Jean Claude Juncker, the current president of the EU.

Faith leaders will include the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeo I, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians; metropolitan Kiril of the Russian Orthodox Church; the archbishop of Athens and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Christodoulos, and the head of the Anglican Communion, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Faithful filed through St Peters Basilica all night to pay their respects to John Paul II, who is lying in state near the main altar. His body will remain on view night and day, with the exception of a short break 02.00-05.00 each morning, until the funeral.

On Friday in Italy schools will remain closed and a minutes silence will be observed at 12.00.