Memorial tributes to Senator John McCain open in Arizona Capitol

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Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Senator John McCain, stands over the casket during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 29, 2018. Ross D. Franklin/Pool via REUTERS

PHOENIX – Family, former colleagues and other dignitaries filed past the flag-draped casket of Senator John McCain inside the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday for the first of several memorial tributes planned for the war hero and two-time Republican presidential candidate.

A hearse bearing McCain’s body arrived at the Phoenix statehouse with a police motorcycle escort for a brief ceremony honouring the Arizona senator, who died of brain cancer on Saturday at age 81.

Governor Doug Ducey and his wife greeted the hearse along with a phalanx of military personnel, war veterans, law enforcement officers and firefighters in dress uniform.

An Arizona National Guard team carried the coffin into the Capitol rotunda, followed by family members, the governor and other politicians and guests. Speakers paid tribute for about 30 minutes to McCain’s life and legacy.

“He fought like hell for the causes he believed in,” Ducey said. “But along the way he did it with humour and humanity, and without compromising the principles he held so dear.”

Attendees included three of McCain’s onetime Republican colleagues from Arizona’s congressional delegation – retiring Senator Jeff Flake, former Senator Jon Kyl and former Congressman James Kolbe.

McCain’s wife, Cindy, widely seen as a possible candidate for appointment to succeed her husband, led a procession of relatives and dignitaries past his casket. She paused briefly, stooping down to rest her cheek on the coffin, then patted it gently and moved on.

Her daughter Meghan McCain, co-host of the television talk show “The View,” sobbed openly.

The ceremony marked the start of five days of tributes in Phoenix and Washington for McCain, who would have turned 82 on Wednesday. Members of the public began lining up hours in advance for a casket viewing that was to begin in the afternoon.

McCain, a Navy pilot who endured 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war after his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War, went from military service into a decades-long political career.

Over the past two years he stood out as sharp critic of President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican. The bad blood between the two persisted after McCain’s death, with his family asking Trump not to attend the funeral and the White House fumbling the formal response to the death of a prominent senator.

Following a Phoenix church service on Thursday, McCain’s body will be flown to Washington where he will lie in state on Friday at the U.S. Capitol before a funeral on Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral. McCain will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sunday.

Ducey has said he will wait until after McCain’s burial to name an immediate successor.

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