Thousands of Spaniards on Monday came to Parliament to pay tribute, express their gratitude and say their last goodbyes to the country's first prime minister under democracy, Adolfo Suarez, who died over the weekend at age 81.

Citizens waited patiently and solemnly in a line some two kilometers (1.25 miles) long for their turn to enter the legislature, where Suarez's body is lying in state.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia came to the site to pay their respects along with many other officials and numerous politicians who worked with Suarez in the first years of the transition to democracy after the end of the Franco dictatorship.

"My gratitude (to Suarez) is deep and permanent, and my pain today is great," King Juan Carlos had said in a statement on Sunday posted on his Web site.

The body will lie in state all day on March 24 in the emblematic Hall of Lost Steps and on Tuesday the casket will be transported to the central Spanish city of Avila for a funeral that is expected to be heavily attended.

Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia came to the lower house of Parliament after the king and queen to pay homage and express their condolences to the Suarez family.

Suarez's coffin arrived with state honors at the lower house of Parliament amid a deep and respectful silence broken only by the applause of thousands of citizens who were waiting to enter and bid farewell to the former premier.

Top Spanish officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, as well as the leaders of Parliament, the Senate, the Constitutional Court and the General Council of the Judiciary were awaiting the casket's arrival at the Capitol building's broad staircase.

Among the officials and former officials present were the country's three other ex-premiers - Felipe Gonzalez, Jose Maria Aznar and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero - as well as the members of the congressional and Senate committees and the current leader of the opposition Socialist Party, or PSOE, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

Ten soldiers carried the coffin accompanied by a Royal Guard drum roll, followed by the children and grandchildren of the former premier, whose oldest son, Adolfo Suarez Illana, placed the Toison de Oro (the Order of the Golden Fleece), Spain's highest honor, bestowed by the king in 2008 to honor Suarez, at the foot of the coffin.

Suarez, who was hospitalized last week with respiratory problems related to Alzheimer's disease, died in Madrid on Sunday.

He served as prime minister from 1976 to 1981, but he had not appeared in public since 2003.

Suarez, who was born on Sept. 25, 1932, in the central town of Cebreros, is considered one of the politicians who played a decisive role in Spain's transition to democracy following the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship. EFE