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BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) – Barbados abandoned Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first-ever president and severing its last colonial ties almost 400 years after the first arrived English ships on the Caribbean island.
At the midnight strike, the new republic was born to the cheers of hundreds of people lining the Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown. A 21-gun salute was fired as the Barbados national anthem was played in a crowded Heroes Square.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood gloomy when Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados was declared, a step which Republicans say will stimulate discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies which have Queen Elizabeth as sovereign.
Barbados is considering the impeachment of Elizabeth II, who is still the queen of 15 other kingdoms, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break with the demons of its colonial history.
After a dazzling performance of Barbadian dance and music, accompanied by speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as the first President of Barbados in the shadow of the Barbados parliament.
“This colonial page is over,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet, said at the ceremony. “Some grew up stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin.”
“It’s about us, coming out of the sugar cane fields, claiming our history,” he said. “End whatever she wants to say, put a Bajan in it instead.” “
The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, untangles almost all of the colonial ties that have kept the small island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for the King James I in 1625.
It may also be the harbinger of a wider attempt by other former colonies to sever ties with the British monarchy as it prepares for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, leader of the Barbados Republican movement, helped lead the ceremony. Mottley caught the world’s attention by denouncing the effects of climate change on small Caribbean countries.
“Tonight is evening!” read the headline on the front page of the Barbados Daily Nation newspaper.
“I am delighted,” Ras Binghi, a shoemaker from Bridgetown, said before the ceremony. Binghi said he would greet the new republic with a drink and a cigarette.
Prince Charles will deliver a speech highlighting the continued friendship of the two nations despite England’s central role in the transatlantic slave trade.
While Britain views slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are asking Britain for compensation.
Activist David Denny celebrated the founding of the republic but said he opposed Prince Charles’ visit, noting that the royal family had benefited for centuries from the slave trade.
“Our movement would also like the royals to pay for redress,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.
The British initially used white British indentured servants to work hard on the tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar plantations, but Barbados would become England’s first truly profitable slave company within decades.
Barbados received 600,000 African slaves between 1627 and 1833, who were put to work on the sugar cane plantations, earning fortunes for the English owners.
More than 10 million Africans were chained to the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal journey ended up working hard on the plantations.
Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.
Outside of the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they didn’t even know what the transition to a republic meant or why it mattered.
“They should let Queen Elizabeth be – let her be the boss. I don’t understand why we have to be a republic, ”said Sean Williams, 45, standing in the shadow of an independence monument.
The last time the Queen was removed from her post as Head of State was in 1992, when Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, proclaimed itself a republic.