Waving flags or farewell? Outposts mull ties to UK

By David Stringer

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Children wave Union flags as they wait for the arrival of Britain's Prince Harry outside the Christ Church Cathedral in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday March 4, 2012. The Prince visited the Bahamas as part of a Diamond Jubilee tour that includes visits to Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil as a representative of Queen Elizabeth II.

Felipe Major, Associated Press

LONDON — From sun-kissed Caribbean beaches to icy north Atlantic tundra, Queen Elizabeth II's family has begun a celebratory tour to mark her 60th year on the throne — just as questions are raised about dumping the monarchy in the far-flung outposts of Britain's faded empire.

Prince Harry has opened celebrations in Jamaica, the nation that is most vocally stirring opposition to the queen's role as head of state of 16 nations and 14 smaller British dependencies, and Prince Charles will travel to Australia, where the prime minister has raised doubts about continued allegiance to the crown.

While the 85-year-old monarch commands respect across her dominions, opinion polls show republican movements in some countries would gain momentum if Charles takes the British throne as expected.

Harry, third in line to the throne, meets Tuesday with Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who says the queen is a "lovely lady" but insists her country must sever remaining links to Britain, in part because of the shameful legacy of slavery.

"It is important to us because it is part of a journey, a journey that started when our ancestors were dragged, sold into slavery and brought here and elsewhere in the Caribbean," Simpson Miller told The Associated Press in an interview.

Millions of Africans were transported as slaves to Caribbean colonies until Britain abolished its slave trade in 1807.

Some analysts believe that if Jamaica, which won independence in 1962, removes the queen as head of state, others in the Caribbean — like the Bahamas, Barbados and Grenada — could follow suit.

"My intuition is that if the issue is well presented, the people of the remaining Caribbean monarchies would welcome the change," said Havelock Brewster, an economist who has served as a Guyanese ambassador.

Most already have wide political and judicial independence and see the monarch's role as purely symbolic. Since the creation of the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in 2010, many have embraced allies closer to home.

During the so-called imperial century that began in the early 1800s, Britain's empire took in about 400 million people, but dwindled sharply through the 20th century, as nations including India, Ireland and a host of African countries won independence. Since she was crowned in 1952, the queen's domain has shrunk from 32 nations to 16.

Some sparsely populated outposts are too small to be viable alone, others are — at least temporarily — reliant on British funds as they struggle with sluggish economies, or the impact of natural disasters.

While opinion polls show monarchist sentiments are in decline among the young, many older people outside Britain claim pride in their British links and retain a fierce loyalty to the queen.

"We must keep a close and a good and a healthy relationship with the United Kingdom because we need Britain to support us," said Edmund Maduro, a retired civil servant in the British Virgin Islands.

Yet few outposts actually rely on Britain for funding or leadership. When it distributes aid money, London shows no favoritism to those who maintain ties with the queen.

In the Pacific, where Britain's naval mastery won it a swath of territory in the late 18th century, opinions are divided.

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, born in Wales, has long argued that Queen Elizabeth II should be the last British monarch to rule over her country. She enraged monarchists when she declined to curtsey, a traditional show of respect, during the queen's October visit.

Opinion polls, however, show support for an Australian republic has fallen since a proposal to replace the queen with a president was rejected in a 1999 referendum.

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