| Pilgrims stand in line to pray in front of the body of Pope John Paul II inside St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican (AFP)
Vatican City, April 6 (Reuters): Cardinals decided today to start a conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul on April 18 as more than 1 million people lined up to see the Pontiff's body, bringing chaos to Rome.
Italy called in the army to help manage the rapidly swelling tumult ahead of Friday's funeral, which is set to be one of the biggest in history, and warned that anyone joining the queue would have to wait up to 14 hours before glimpsing the body.
Secluded from the massing pilgrims, Roman Catholic cardinals chose the start date for the conclave which faces the daunting task of replacing a giant figure of the 20th century. The electors will vote in the Sistine Chapel twice a day until they have selected a new pontiff.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said John Paul's last will and testament was read to the cardinals today and would be released tomorrow.
He said the document, which is likely to be of a spiritual nature, was roughly 15 pages long and written over the course of his pontificate, starting in 1979, the year after his election.
Rome faced paralysis today as even more pilgrims from around the world flooded into the city to pay their respects to a Pope who helped topple Communism and stamped a firm, unyielding orthodoxy on his Church.
Authorities said they would not allow anybody else to join the lines from 2000 GMT so that the faithful would finish passing through St Peter's Basilica tomorrow night in time for the Vatican to start preparing for the Friday funeral.
The elaborate funeral rites will draw together nearly 200 world leaders, some of whom rarely if ever meet, a fitting tribute to a Pope who spoke out for world peace and unity.
The chairs already laid out in St Peter's Square will seat President George W. Bush near President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, one of the countries Bush included in his 'axis of evil'.
The conclave will be open to all cardinals aged under 80 ' 117 in all. A two-thirds majority is needed to choose the Pope. Most modern conclaves have lasted only a few days, but if cardinals have failed to elect a Pope after about two weeks of balloting, they can opt for a simple majority vote.
There is no favourite candidate and the former Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was himself regarded as an outsider when he was elevated to the papacy on October 16, 1978.
However, cardinals have started sketching in public their preferences. Some believe the next pontiff should come from a developing country in the Southern Hemisphere, where two thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics live.
In Rome, young and old alike queued patiently in the warm spring sun before entering the basilica, where the Pope's crimson-robed body lay on a bier. More than 1 million pilgrims have filed past the body since it was moved to the basilica on Monday.