Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Prince Charles to attend first Commonwealth heads summit

image LONDON (AFP) — Prince Charles is to attend his first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM next week, amid speculation that the 53-nation body is preparing for life after Queen Elizabeth II.

The 59-year-old heir to the throne will be in Uganda alongside his 81-year-old mother, who leads the coalition of countries, the majority of which are former British colonies.

Charles will take part in some of the formal proceedings at the three-day summit in Kampala on November 23-25, as well as meet foreign ministers and heads of government in private talks on the shores of Lake Victoria.

But royal officials have insisted that contrary to recent media reports, the prince's presence is not designed to pave the way for his "succession" as head of the Commonwealth.

In a November 3 article, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed senior Commonwealth source as saying the question of whether Charles will inherit the title of head of the body is being actively considered.

Although the queen has been head of the Commonwealth since her accession to the throne in 1952, the position is not enshrined in law and her heir does not automatically succeed her in the role.

Instead it is for Commonwealth leaders to decide.

The newspaper said representatives of member countries are likely to discuss the issue informally when they gather for the queen's funeral and make a decision in the interregnum before Charles's coronation.

The queen is head of the Commonwealth but does not have to be head of state in member countries; in fact, only 16 of the 53 countries have the monarch as head of state, notably Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

But amid growing republican sentiment, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, by the time Charles becomes king the group of monarchies may have been reduced.

That could influence the balance of Commonwealth leaders wanting a royal as Commonwealth leader, the newspaper said.

And with Rwanda -- a former Belgian colony -- angling for Commonwealth membership and Portugal's former outpost Mozambique having joined, the desire for royal patronage could be dampened further.

One idea that has reportedly been mooted is for the role to be rotated.

The Mail on Sunday reported recently that Charles was launching a "diplomatic charm offensive" at the summit to ensure he, and his eldest son prince William, inherit the queen's long-standing role.

A royal official from Charles's official London residence, Clarence House, told AFP the reports about the prince's future role were speculation.

She said his first trip to Uganda with his second wife Camilla comes after an invitation from President Yoweri Museveni and he would tour aid and development projects in the country as well as take part in some of the summit formalities.

"The prince has a lot of links with various Commonwealth countries. He's visited Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Pakistan in the last year," she said.

"It's an opportunity for him to build on those links and catch up with the projects that he undertook when he was there."

AFP: Prince Charles to attend first Commonwealth heads summit