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  30 Nov 2021, 11:00

Barbados declared a republic, removing Queen Elizabeth II

  BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Nov 30, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Barbados formally declared
itself the world's newest republic at the stroke of midnight, as the
Caribbean island nation removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state in a
solemn ceremony Tuesday attended by her son Prince Charles.

  Symbolizing the historic handover, the Royal Standard flag representing the
queen was lowered during a ceremony inaugurating the current governor-
general, Dame Sandra Mason, as the first president of Barbados.

  "I, Sandra Prunella Mason, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true
allegiance to Barbados according to law, so help me God," the new president
said in taking the oath of office.

  The new era for the nation of 285,000 ends Britain's centuries of
influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.

  A long-running pandemic curfew was suspended to allow Barbadians to enjoy
the festivities, including projections at various points across the country
and large fireworks displays timed to mark the historic transition.

  "I remember in the old days we would be really excited about the Queen and
Prince Charles and Princess Diana and royal weddings," Anastasia Smith, a 61-
year-old nurse, told AFP.

  "But I don't know if we ever quite saw them as our royal family. Now,
everybody is talking about a republic. I'm not sure that anything about my
life is going to change. But I think we're doing the right thing and it's a
proud moment for Barbados."

  The "Pride of Nationhood" ceremony itself was closed to the wider public
but Barbados' most famous citizen, the singer Rihanna, took place alongside
top officials for the event, complete with military parades, a mounted guard
of honor and gun salutes.

  - Colonialism and slavery -

  Barbados, famous for its idyllic beaches and love of cricket, won
independence from Britain in 1966.

  In October, it elected Mason its first president, one year after Prime
Minister Mia Mottley declared the country would "fully" leave behind its
colonial past.

  British officials said Charles would use his speech in Barbados to stress
continuing ties between the two countries, including through the Commonwealth
group of nations.

  But there has been local criticism of the decision to invite Charles as
guest of honor, and award him the Order of Freedom of Barbados, the highest
national honor.

  And Charles' visit was clouded at the last minute by another race row over
alleged comments about his grandson.

  His youngest son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan -- who has a black mother
and a white father -- have said an unnamed royal asked how dark their unborn
first child's skin would be.

  A new book reportedly claimed Charles was responsible, which his spokesman
dismissed as "fiction and not worth further comment."

  - Relying on tourism -

  Some Barbadians argue there are more pressing national issues than
replacing the queen, including economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19
pandemic that has exposed overreliance on tourism -- which, ironically, is
dependent on British visitors.

  Unemployment is at nearly 16 percent, up from nine percent in recent years.

  "I know it is something that we were going towards for a very long time,
but I think it came at a time which is not necessarily the best time
considering our economic situation and the Covid situation," said 27-year-old
office manager Nikita Stuart.

  In usually bustling Bridgetown, paltry numbers at popular tourist spots and
a dead nightlife scene all point to a country struggling after years of
relative prosperity.

  For young activists such as Firhaana Bulbulia, founder of the Barbados
Muslim Association, British colonialism and slavery lie behind the island's
modern inequalities.

  "The wealth gap, the ability to own land, and even access to loans from
banks all have a lot to do with structures built out of being ruled by
Britain," Bulbulia, 26, said.

  Buoyed by Black Lives Matter movements across the world, local activists
last year successfully advocated for the removal of a statue of the British
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson that stood in National Heroes Square for two
centuries.

  And the end of the queen's reign is seen by some as a necessary step
towards financial reparations to address the historic consequences of the use
of slaves brought from Africa to work on sugar plantations.

  For many Barbadians, replacing the queen is just catching up with how the
nation has felt for many years.

  "The symbolism of being able to aspire to become head of state is so
powerful," Mottley said last week.

  "Our president-elect, who will be sworn in on Monday night... is the person
who will bring immense pride to every Barbadian boy and girl."

 

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