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French protests stall landmark UK royal visit

#French #protests #stall #landmark #royal #visit

It was meant to be Charles III’s first major foray on the international stage as king, a prestigious celebration of historic cross-Channel relations before he is officially crowned in May.

But the 74-year-old monarch will now have to wait a bit longer to visit France, after widespread street protests over unpopular pension reforms forced its postponement.

Charles and Queen Consort Camilla, who had been due in Paris on Sunday, “greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found”, Buckingham Palace said.

The UK government said President Emmanuel Macron had requested the postponement, as tensions spilled over on the streets, and protesters fought running battles with security forces in some cities.

But with royal visits carefully choreographed for the maximum positive exposure, officials will likely be relieved.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, said the postponement would have been a “difficult decision but understandable”.

“State visits are a time for celebration and this was not the moment,” he wrote on Twitter.

The postponement avoids a situation of the royal couple being caught up in demonstrations, and even protocol faux pas, after striking workers threatened to withhold red carpets for the tour.

On the French side, too, Macron will have been mindful of the public relations implications of wining and dining a high-profile foreign dignitary as tear gas and smoke choke French cities.

Charles, 74, and his wife, 75, had been due to tour Paris and Bordeaux before heading to Germany.

The German leg of the tour is still going ahead as planned.

– Entente –

Macron first invited Charles last September, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a fluent French speaker who made five state visits to France during her 70-year reign.

The trip was designed as the “soft-power” follow-up to a visit by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this month, with London keen to rebuild bridges with Paris after a tumultuous few years.

During Boris Johnson’s premiership from 2019 to last year, the UK left the European Union, with wrangling over a Brexit trade deal souring ties.

His short-lived successor Liz Truss, failed to reverse the mistrust in Paris after declaring that the “jury’s out” on whether Macron was a “friend or foe” of the UK.

But Sunak’s arrival in Downing Street last year has changed the dynamic: he and Macron are of a similar age and share a finance background, with a close sartorial style.

Their new-found partnership has even been dubbed “le bromance”.

– Germany –

In Paris, Charles and Camilla had been due to join Macron for a ceremony of remembrance and wreath laying at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where household waste has been piling up since early March due to a refuse collectors’ strike. 

Charles — a French-speaker since the age of seven and a frequent visitor — was to have addressed the Senate, and been hosted at a state banquet before heading southwest to Bordeaux.

According to the initial programme, he was to have toured areas devastated by last year’s wildfires as well as visit an organic vineyard.

The focus will now switch to Germany next week, where he will receive a ceremonial welcome at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, meet Ukrainian refugees and address the Bundestag.

In northern city of Hamburg, he will be told about the port’s adoption of green technologies — an issue close to his heart as a lifelong environmentalist.

The state visits had been meant to take the focus away from blanket coverage of Charles’s youngest son Prince Harry’s autobiography and his Netflix docuseries with his wife, Meghan, both of which criticised royal life.

Charles, who was heir to the throne for 70 years, is less popular than his mother in opinion polls and has faced anti-monarchy protests since coming to the throne.

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