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UK anti-monarchists try to rain on Charles’s birthday parade

Except for some torrential downpours, King Charles III’s highly choreographed offical birthday parade passed off successfully on Saturday, as Catherine, Princess of Wales, made a well-received partial return to public duties.

But a small band of anti-monarchists did not keep to the meticulously planned script, booing the royals as they appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony, waving their protest placards and aggravating royalists there.

Graham Smith, who heads the Republic pressure group which campaigns for an elected UK head of state to replace the monarch, led the several dozen demonstrators determined to intrude on one of the highlights of the royal calendar.

“The monarchy is undemocratic, it’s corrupt,” he told AFP, as they rallied near the palace with the organisation’s signature yellow placards and flags bearing slogans like “down with the crown”.

“They misuse public office for personal gain, spending millions… on lifestyle, demanding secrecy, interfering in politics,” he added, in criticisms Smith regularly airs against the centuries-old British institution.

Long a fringe group in the UK, Republic insists it has “momentum” on its side in its bid to persuade Britons to ditch the monarchy.

The group has sought to capitalise on the end of Queen Elizabeth’s seven-decade reign — the biggest change to the monarchy in a generation — to make a fresh case for reform.

– Royal recoveries –

It has increased its standing since Charles’s tenure on the throne started in September 2022, and now boasts 140,000 “supporters” and 10,000 paying members, according to Smith.

He told AFP in February that Charles’s recently announced cancer diagnosis would not stop his organisation making its case.

Just weeks later Kate, as the Princess of Wales is widely known, revealed she too had been diagnosed with the disease, prompting a wave of support from global leaders, family members, media and the public.

Charles, 75, was given the green light to resume public duties in April, after doctors said they were “very encouraged” by his progress.

Kate’s public appearance on Saturday, her first since last December, followed a statement on Friday that she was “making good progress” with her treatment, which is set to last for several more months.

However, the 42-year-old princess added she was “not out of the woods yet”.

“I wish them all the best and hope they make a full recovery and it’s very good they are apparently better and well enough to come out today,” Smith said on Saturday.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t be… doing what they’re doing.”

Current polling shows senior royals currently have little to fear from Republic, with a wide margin preferring to retain them over switching to an elected head of state.

But that support wanes among younger people, while Smith has noted that overall, backing for the institution is down on previous levels during Elizabeth II’s record-breaking reign.

– Friction –

Smith intends to campaign for a referendum on the issue during the next parliamentary term, which could prove a struggle with none of the leading UK-wide parties supporting its stance.

Unsurprisingly, flag-waving monarchy backers in attendance at Saturday’s Trooping the Colour military parade marking Charles’ official birthday were unimpressed by the noisy Republic contingent.

Cries of “not my king” were met by counter-cries of “God save the king” — and “shut up” — as the two camps had brief heated exchanges.

“I think it’s impertinent that they’re gathering so soon after the King’s cancer diagnosis,” said James Evans.

“He’s trying his best to fulfill his obligations and his duties. And I gathered here to cheer him,” he added, vowing to “drown them out with our songs and our cheering”.
“I hope the king sees us today — and he sees there are more of us than them.”

But Gordon Alexander, a 72-year-old Republic member, was undeterred.
“Britain doesn’t need to have a hereditary monarch as the head of state,”he told AFP.

“It doesn’t make sense in this time we live in and yet we still have a structure that allows one person or one family to have huge influence in the country.”