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Commonwealth backs Prince Charles as next head

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London: Commonwealth leaders agreed on Friday that Prince Charles should follow his mother Queen Elizabeth II as the next head of the group, the BBC and other media reported. Queen Elizabeth on Thursday told leaders from the 53 member states that she wanted her eldest son to succeed her in the symbolic figurehead role.


Leaders, gathered at Windsor Castle for private talks, agreed that Charles, heir to the thrones of 16 Commonwealth nations, should follow the monarch in the non-hereditary position, the BBC, Sky News television and the domestic Press Association news agency reported.


Following Queen Elizabeth’s public call as she opened the group’s summit on Thursday for potentially the final time, a series of Commonwealth premiers voiced their support on Thursday for Charles as a figure of stability and continuity.


Queen Elizabeth, who turns 92 on Saturday, spoke of her own “extraordinary journey” since pledging to serve the Commonwealth for life when aged 21.


“It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations and will decide that one day, the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work,” she said, referring to Charles.


Queen Elizabeth has been the Commonwealth’s symbolic figurehead since her father king George VI’s death in 1952.


Some republican voices had been angling for change in future. British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, said on Sunday that the role could go to a rotating presidency.


But British Prime Minister Theresa May gave her backing to 69-year-old Charles.


“The government supports the Prince of Wales as the next head of the Commonwealth. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades,” her spokesman said.


Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said: “I very much agree with the wishes of Her Majesty that the Prince of Wales be the next head of the Commonwealth.”


Maltese PM Joseph Muscat added: “We are certain that when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide a solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth.”


And Grenada’s Prime Minister Keith Mitchell told the BBC: “It would be good news. “Having the Prince of Wales would certainly not be an unhelpful act at this point in time.”


Queen Elizabeth gave up long-haul travel to attend the biennial Commonwealth summits in 2013 and gatherings look set to be held outside Europe in the near term.


Charles represented her at the 2013 summit in Colombo.


Meanwhile Britain said on Friday it would strongly support Zimbabwe’s re-entry to the Commonwealth and praised President Emmerson Mnangagwa for impressive progress since Robert Mugabe was toppled in a military coup.


But it said Mnangagwa, who became president following a military take-over, would still have to deliver on free and fair elections in July to win over Zimbabwe’s critics at home and abroad.


Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth network of 53 mostly former territories of the British Empire in 2003 after Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe from its independence in 1980, came under criticism over disputed elections and land seizures from white farmers.


“The UK would strongly support Zimbabwe’s re-entry and a new Zimbabwe that is committed to political and economic reform that works for all its people,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.


As Harare looks to rebuild its international ties, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met his Zimbabwean counterpart Sibusiso Moyo and ministers from other nations over breakfast on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.


Moyo — the general who went on state television in khaki fatigues last November to announce the military takeover — also met ministers from neighbouring African states and Australia at the breakfast.


Mugabe cast himself as a liberation hero but opponents said he drove Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground and made the country an international pariah. He was forced to step down in November during a coup and was replaced by Mnangagwa.


Johnson praised Mnangagwa’s record in office in the past 150 days but said a bellwether for the direction of a new Zimbabwe would be the election in July.


“The Zimbabwe government must deliver the free and fair elections the people of Zimbabwe deserve and which it has promised,” he said.


The election will pit Mnangagwa against a clutch of opponents including 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change.


David Coltart, a former education minister and member of parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change, said he was shocked by the speed with which Mnangagwa has been welcomed back to the fold after an unconstitutional seizure of power.


“I am utterly appalled by the @Commonwealth18 and the British Government feting the #Zimbabwe regime,” Coltart said on Twitter.


The West imposed sanctions on Mugabe and members of his inner circle, accusing them of rigging a series of votes - charges they denied.


Now Zimbabwe has said it will invite Western powers to monitor its national elections for the first time in more than 15 years.


“President Mnangagwa has been in power for 150 days and while Zimbabwe has made impressive progress, there is still much to do,” Johnson said. “That’s why Britain, the Commonwealth and the wider international community will do everything it can in supporting Zimbabwe on its path of reform.”


“The UK stands ready in friendship to support a Zimbabwe that fully embraces the rule of law, human rights and economic reform,” he said. -- AFP/Reuters


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