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Queen Elizabeth calls for bold reforms in Commonwealth

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is joined by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, left, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, centre right, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for group photos at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia on Friday.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is joined by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, left, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, centre right, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for group photos at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Torsten Blackwood

Amid global financial turmoil and uncertainty, Queen Elizabeth II on Friday sought bold reforms to usher in a “new vibrancy” for making the Commonwealth “fresh and fit” as a key summit of 54 countries linked to the erstwhile British empire opened in Perth.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari is representing India at the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM, which is discussing ways to tackle tough challenges posed by the global financial crisis, food security, climate change, trade and human rights issues.

The meeting is being held in this western Australian city amid tight security.

It was an all-woman affair at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre when outgoing CHOGM chair and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar handed over charge to incoming chair, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in the presence of the queen.

“This Commonwealth meeting is, for its part, the perfect opportunity to address these issues and find responses for today’s crises and challenges,” the queen said in her opening address.

The 85-year-old monarch also said the meeting would bring “new vibrancy” to the Commonwealth forum.

“Almost a decade later we find ourselves confronting new challenges — insecurity and uncertainty in finance, food supply, climate change, trade and development,” she said. “This meeting promises to bring new vibrancy to the Commonwealth.”

The queen thanked the Eminent Persons Group, a collection of prominent thinkers who have proposed a blueprint for reform of the institution. “I wish heads of government well in agreeing further reforms that respond boldly to the aspirations of today and that keep the Commonwealth fresh and fit for tomorrow.”

She urged leaders not to forget the Commonwealth was a body not just of governments but of people.

“That is what makes it so relevant in this age of global information and communication,” she said, adding that “We must continue to strive together to promote that theme in a lasting way beyond this year.”

She concluded by reciting an Aboriginal saying: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

The lavish opening ceremony featured a diverse procession of heads of government, including 25 Prime Ministers, 10 Presidents, five Vice-Presidents, two Deputy Prime Ministers, one High Commissioner, a lord and the Sultan of Brunei.

The queen’s plea for reform was echoed by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, who said renewal was needed to make sure the grouping was resilient and relevant for the future.

He also revealed it was the queen who had described the Commonwealth as the “original world-wide web“.

The Australian Prime Minister, also host of the summit, cited economic concerns and food security as key issues in her address.

“How do we best pursue our timeless values in a world of change,” Ms. Gillard asked.

“Let us make CHOGM 2011 memorable for answering this question. Memorable for being the meeting that gave the Commonwealth the direction it needed at a time of global uncertainty and risk.”

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:53:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/queen-elizabeth-calls-for-bold-reforms-in-commonwealth/article2577183.ece

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