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Royal tour Down Under prepares way for King Charles: PM


Britain's Prince Charles, right, speaks while New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, left, and Lady Janine Mateparae, center, looks on during a state reception at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand, on Wednesday. AFP
WELLINGTON — Prince Charles arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday for a tour that Prime Minister John Key said would help the British heir “establish a rapport” with Kiwis before he inherits the throne from his ageing mother.
Charles and wife Camilla flew into Wellington for a seven-day visit that will be followed by six days in Australia, another former colony that keeps the British monarch as head of state.
Key greeted the heir to the throne at Wellington airport but a traditional Maori welcome from tattooed warriors at Government House was cancelled amid heavy rain and strong winds.
However, Charles was able to visit New Zealand’s National War Memorial, where he laid a wreath and chatted with veterans.
The extensive tour takes the royal couple to the North and South islands, including New Plymouth, Dunedin and Auckland.
It is also relatively unusual, given Charles and Camilla last visited only three years ago for celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.
Key said the 89-year-old Queen was unlikely to ever make the grueling trip from Britain to New Zealand again, commenting: “In reality it’s a very long haul for her.”
He said that meant other royals were taking up her commitments, particularly Charles, since he was first in line for the crown.
“Prince Charles will one day be king of New Zealand,” Key told TVNZ. “So it’s really important that he does have that relationship with New Zealand, that he establishes a rapport and people get to know him.”
If Charles does become king, as expected, he will be monarch of both Australia and New Zealand, which were once part of the empire but are now independent.
The British crown’s power is seen as largely symbolic, and while Queen Elizabeth II enjoys strong personal popularity in both countries, some see the monarchy itself as a colonial relic.
Key is an ardent monarchist but has nonetheless led calls for New Zealand to drop Britain’s Union Jack from the corner of the national flag in favor of a more Kiwi-inspired banner.
He denied the issue, which will be determined in a referendum next March, would be an awkward conversation topic during Charles and Camilla’s visit.
“I don’t think they’re worried about the flag,” he said. In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a staunch republican, has said he believes the country will revisit the issue of becoming a republic when the Queen dies.
Charles and Camilla will visit a Wellington drama school on Thursday then travel to Dunedin for a trip on the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway.
Key said the royal couple were also keen to personally congratulate the All Blacks on their recent Rugby World Cup win, schedules permitting.
“There’s no question they’d like to meet up with them, they obviously can see what a big deal it is for New Zealand and how celebrated they will be,” he told TV3. — AFP
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