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Queens leads Commonwealth service

The Queen and senior royals have led a service celebrating the Commonwealth in London.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were joined by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for the Commonwealth Observance.

It was the first time that William and Kate have attended the event, held at Westminster Abbey, which celebrates the multinational organisation on Commonwealth Day.

The royals were joined by politicians including the president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, plus High Commissioners, other Commonwealth dignitaries, faith leaders and more than 1,000 children.

Pregnant Kate was wearing a long pale pink coat by Alexander McQueen which covered her baby bump, plus a hat by Jane Taylor.

The royal party was introduced to a line-up including Mr Sirisena and his first lady, plus Commonwealth secretary-general Kamalesh Sharma and senior Abbey clergy.

Charles seemed to share a joke with the Sri Lankan president as he greeted him.

William and Kate, who arrived first, chatted with Charles and Camilla as they waited for Philip and the Queen, who wore a pale beige summer tweed dress and coat by Karl Ludwig and a matching hat by Angela Kelly.

They then joined a procession that included a group of Brownies, down the nave of the historic ecclesiastic building before the Queen's Commonwealth Day message was played via giant screens.

In the message, which is also being broadcast by radio in Commonwealth states today, the Queen hailed its continued role, saying what the member states share is more important now than at any point in its history.

She said the 53 nations, whose combined populations total 2.2 billion people, are "guardians of a precious flame" with an obligation to keep it burning brightly for decades to come.

She warned that "when common goals fall apart, so does the exchange of ideas. And if people no longer trust or understand each other, the talking will soon stop too".

She added that the organisation's members have drawn on their shared history to act on the "huge advantages of mutual co-operation and understanding" to the benefit of their citizens.

The annual event, which has the theme of "a young Commonwealth", also featured dancing, hymns and readings.

The royals spoke with performers from the event as they left the Abbey.

Buhle Mda, who sang with South African acappella group The Soil, said she congratulated pregnant Kate on her baby, saying: "She just held herself and thanked me."

The 27-year-old, from Soweto in Johannesburg, said they also chatted about the excellent acoustics of the Abbey.

"She (Kate) commented on the acoustics of the place, it's beautiful," Miss Mda said.

"We came here yesterday to do a sound check and we didn't need any effects so we chatted about that."

The royals also spoke to Indian poet Sharanya Manivannan, 29, who performed a piece called Gathering that was specially commissioned for the event.

Miss Manivannan, from Chennai in southern India, said: "It was an extraordinary feeling. The Queen said I read beautifully and then Charles asked if I wrote it for the event. I said yes and he said 'that's amazing, you are brilliant'."

She also said she told Kate she was "lovely".

A procession of the flags of all the Commonwealth states led the royals and dignitaries from the Abbey at the end of the ceremony.

A demonstration by Tamil protesters marked the Sri Lankan president's departure from Westminster Abbey, with a group waving placards outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre across the street.

The long and bloody civil war in the country was the source of many allegations of serious human rights abuses by both sides and since its end the government has been accused on clamping down further on the Tamil minority group.

Protester Roshimi Ramesh, 28, who came to the UK from Sri Lanka to protest outside the Abbey, said: "We want attention and we want an international investigation into our country, for justice. We want justice for the Tamils."

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