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Politicians pay respects to guru

Top political leaders are joining thousands of mourners to pay their respects to Indian religious leader Sathya Sai Baba.

A line of devotees nearly a mile long was waiting to circle the glass coffin containing his body.

Narendra Modi, the top elected official of the western state of Gujarat, joined the devotees circling the flower-bedecked casket.

State-run All India Radio said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leader of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi will later visit Sai Baba's ashram or spiritual retreat in southern India.

The 84-year-old guru's death on Sunday triggered an outpouring of grief from followers. His funeral will take place on Wednesday.

Sai Baba's followers included Indian politicians, film stars, athletes and industrialists.

Most remembered him as a pious, selfless person who worked to help others with the billions of dollars donated to his charitable trust. However, he was also dismissed by some as a charlatan who passed off magic tricks as miracles.

Within India, Sai Baba was a well-known face and his photograph, with a halo of frizzy dark hair and orange robes, adorned millions of homes, car dashboards and lockets worn by Indian and foreign believers.

His body has been kept in a glass casket inside the main auditorium since Sunday evening.

Hundreds of volunteers - men dressed in white trousers and shirts with blue scarves, and women in saris and yellow scarves - handed out plates of food and packets of cookies to the long line of mourners.

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