TONY BLAIR last night put off his announcement of the General Election date following the death of Pope John Paul II.

The Prime Minister had been expected to go to Buckingham Palace today to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, signalling the start of the election race.

But as the Pope lay in state in the Vatican, his body finally at peace after years of debilitating illness, Downing Street officials said Mr Blair would not be making any announcement today about the election out of respect for the Pope.

The delay is only expected to last 24 hours, and will not affect the timing of polling day, which is still expected to be May 5.

A statement said: "In response to speculation, we can confirm that he will not be going to Buckingham Palace."

Tomorrow, Mr Blair, with Tory leader Michael Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, will attend a remembrance service at Westminster Cathedral.

As the Vatican prepared for the Pope's funeral and the gathering of the cardinals who will elect his successor, Britain's political and religious leaders added their tributes to those from presidents and prime ministers across the world.

Mr Blair said the world had lost a religious leader "who was revered across people of all faiths and none".

He said: "He never wavered, never flinched, in the struggle for what he thought was good and right."

The 84-year-old pontiff finally succumbed to his long struggle against illness on Saturday night.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, led a Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

The service was attended by about 2,000 people, including the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair, and Health Secretary John Reid.

Worshippers spilled on to the piazza in front of the cathedral when there was no space left inside.

The Cardinal said: "Somehow, when the final suffering was over, we knew the battle is over and the victory is won."

He described John Paul II as "one of the greatest leaders of our modern world" and said his most notable achievement was the way he had turned the papacy into a moral voice, not just for Christians, but for people across the world, in a way none of his predecessors had managed.

During Mass at Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Archbishop Patrick Kelly wore the red robes worn by the Pope during his tour of Britain in 1982.

The Archbishop said the atmosphere at the Catholic Cathedral had been one of "triumph" over the past few days.

The Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle said the world had lost a "champion of peace and reconciliation" while the Archbishop of Canterbury said the Pope's example of how to deal with suffering had been particularly poignant so close to Easter.

Dr Rowan Williams said he believed John Paul II would be "a very difficult man to follow", but that the trend towards closer relations between the Christian churches would continue.

"In a world that seems to be shrinking because of travel, there is no way a Pope can be simply a leader in his own community. That is a page that can't be turned back."

The Queen said he would be remembered best as a peacemaker.

Abdur Rashid Siddiqui, vice-chairman of the Islamic Foundation UK, said John Paul II's greatest impact had been his "uncompromising refusal to neither bow to the whims of our time nor to those who wield power in today's world".

The Pope's funeral is expected to be held later this week.