Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Charles hosts Commonwealth 'family'

The Prince of Wales is hosting his first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

The Prince of Wales hosted a glittering dinner for Commonwealth leaders tonight and declared he felt proud and privileged to be part of the "family of nations".

Charles, who is presiding over the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in the Queen's absence, told prime ministers and presidents from across the globe that the organisation was in his blood.

Earlier, Charles launched the three-day summit in Sri Lanka and in his speech spoke of his trust in the Commonwealth to bring a "touch of healing" to the world's troubles.

His remarks made no reference to the alleged human rights abuses committed by Sri Lanka's regime towards the end of a bitter civil war in 2009.

The issue is overshadowing the biennial summit, with the prime ministers of India, Canada and Mauritius boycotting Chogm in protest.

Amnesty International acknowledged the prince might not be able to speak publicly about human rights, but urged him to raise the issue privately with Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

During the banquet, hosted by the prince and staged at a hotel in the capital Colombo, the heir to the throne sat next to the Sri Lankan leader.

Charles and Camilla greeted all the leaders and politicians attending the dinner as they arrived in the banqueting room and the duchess wore a dazzling diamond tiara which belonged to Queen Mother, her own diamond earrings and bracelet, and a turquoise chiffon beaded evening gown by Bruce Oldfield.

In his speech, the prince recounted stories about world leaders he had met or the countries visited over the past decades.

He made the dinner guests, who included David Cameron, laugh when he said he was once taken water-skiing by a prime minister of Malta until he could take it no more and let go of the rope.

Charles said: "The result of all this over all these years is that I feel very much part of a family, it is in my blood - I hate to tell you - and I have been brought up in the family.

"With all the stories about it and all the accounts and all the reminiscences and everything else over so many years.

"And I think that what we are renewing here are those family ties, those family associations, and above all those family values. I feel proud, if I may so, and enormously privileged to be a part of it all."

Sri Lanka's president strongly defended the bloody end to the civil war in his address at the opening ceremony, telling dignitaries: "In ending terrorism in 2009 we asserted the greatest human right, the right to life."

As many as 40,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the final months of the regime's 26-year fight with Tamil Tiger separatists, according to the UN, which wants an international probe if no new inquiry is held.

When the Prime Minister made a trip earlier today to the region where the civil war came to a bloody end - the first world leader to travel to the north since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 - he was besieged by Tamil protesters condemning the country's human rights record.

Mr Cameron arrived late for the pre-dinner reception after his journey back from the north was delayed and he then went into a bilateral meeting with the Sri Lankan leader where he put his concerns to him.

When he finally walked into the banqueting room, Mr Cameron saw Mr Rajapaksa and said to him: "It's good to have these frank discussions."

Charles proudly wore his medals to the black-tie dinner, his Garter star and Order of Merit insignia around his neck, while Camilla wore the Family Order given to her by the Queen on her 60th birthday.

The medals included the Coronation Medal, Jubilee Medal, Golden Jubilee Medal and Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The leaders and their spouses dined on a terrine of grilled vegetables, followed by a pan fried fish called modha, and dessert was a mango and chocolate parfait with strawberry macaroon.

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