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Stage set for star-studded memorial service

Los Angeles has gone into a lockdown as hundreds of millions of Michael Jackson fans across the world prepare for today’s star-studded farewell to the King of Pop at the city’s Staples Center sports arena.


AFP - Hundreds of millions of fans around the world were preparing to bid a poignant farewell to Michael Jackson Monday, as Los Angeles went into lockdown ahead of a star-studded memorial service.

Nearly two weeks after the death of the tragic "King of Pop," America is expected to grind to a standstill early Tuesday as the tortured music superstar is finally laid to rest.

Jackson's family and close friends are to attend a private funeral service for the iconic singer at 8:00 am (1500 GMT) at the picturesque Forest Lawn mortuary nestled in the Hollywood Hills above Los Angeles.

From there, attention will turn to a memorial being held at the 20,000-capacity Staples Center sports arena in the city's downtown.

A staggering 1.6 million people applied to win free tickets for the event allocated via an online lottery over the weekend.

Precise details of the service have been kept under wraps but organizers confirmed Monday that Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson are just a few of the stars due to participate.

An additional 1,400 police officers will be on duty to provide security, while city blocks surrounding the venue have been sealed off.

Organizers of the memorial, which gets underway at 10:00am (1700 GMT), have appealed to ticketless fans to watch the event on television, fearing chaos if hundreds of thousands take to the streets to mourn.

A live feed of the service is being made available free to television networks, while the event will also be streamed via social networking websites Facebook and MySpace, officials said.

Jackson's mysterious death from an apparent cardiac arrest at the age of 50 on June 25 sent shockwaves rippling around the world, triggering a global avalanche of tributes and grief.

Thousands of fans have continued to flock daily to Jackson's star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame" in Los Angeles, and a makeshift shrine of flowers, cards and toys has swamped the gates of the singer's Neverland Ranch.

Jackson sold more than 750 million albums during a glittering four-decade career that was ultimately overshadowed by repeated allegations of child abuse, his startling physical transformation and eccentric behavior.

While all eyes are on Jackson's memorial Tuesday, multiple law enforcement agencies are probing the circumstances of his death.

An autopsy was carried out on Jackson's body the day after his death, but the Los Angeles County Coroner's office has said it will not issue a final cause of death until the results of exhaustive toxicology tests are known in "several weeks."

Police investigators have meanwhile zeroed in on the possible role of drugs in Jackson's death.

Close friends and associates of the star have angrily alleged that Jackson was surrounded by a coterie of medical professionals willing to provide him with potent prescription medication.

US media, citing unidentified law enforcement sources, said investigators found the powerful sedative Propofol, also known as Diprivan, among a "mini-pharmacy" at Jackson's home.

The discovery has raised the stakes in the probe, which widened last week as the Los Angeles Police Department enlisted the support of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Propofol is commonly used in hospitals to induce unconsciousness in patients before major surgery. Healthcare experts say it should never be used at home and should only be administered by trained anesthesiologists.

Police have questioned Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray but have stressed he is not suspected of criminal wrongdoing.

Lawyers meanwhile are busy untangling the labyrinth of legal issues that have emerged in the aftermath of Jackson's death.

On Monday, a Los Angeles judge replaced Jackson's mother as temporary administrator of his estate with two of the pop icon's business associates, as demanded by a 2002 will.

A hearing to discuss the fate of Jackson's children -- Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7 -- has been scheduled for July 13.

Jackson's will requested that his 79-year-old mother be appointed guardian, although speculation has built that the star's ex-wife and biological mother of the two eldest children, Debbie Rowe, may lodge a custody bid.


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