A glittering lunch for the world’s sovereigns to be held on Friday to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II has been marked by a withdrawal and protests over the guest list.
Spain’s Queen Sophia has pulled out of the event at Windsor Castle, west of London, amid tensions over Gibraltar, while there were protests over the invite of Swaziland’s King Mswati III.
Rights groups are also angered that the guest list, released by Buckingham Palace on Friday, includes Bahrain’s King Hamad, whose Gulf island country is in a state of civil unrest following a deadly crackdown on protests.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The sovereigns lunch is a matter for Buckingham Palace, but we understand all reigning sovereigns have been invited.
“The jubilee celebrations are about marking 60 years of the queen’s reign, they are not a political event.
“The palace is not releasing further details, including details of the guest list, until the day of the engagement.”
Queen Sofia, the consort of King Juan Carlos, cancelled her trip due to tensions with Britain over the tiny Gibraltar peninsula, which Spain ceded to Britain in perpetuity in 1713.
Last week Madrid protested to London over a planned June 11-13 jubilee visit to Gibraltar on behalf of Queen Elizabeth by her youngest son Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
“The government considers it is hardly adequate that in the current circumstances, Queen Sofia take part in Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee,” a spokesman for the Spanish royal household said Wednesday.
The Spanish king and queen were due to attend the Windsor lunch, which is being held to mark Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne, but King Juan Carlos had already pulled out, recovering from hip replacement surgery after a fall during an elephant hunting expedition in Africa.
After the lunch, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, are hosting a dinner for the foreign sovereign monarchs at Buckingham Palace in London.
Not all the sovereigns are attending both events.
Japan’s Emperor Akihito — who attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 — and Empress Michiko are going. They visited the Kyoto Garden in London’s Holland Park on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a group of Swazis living in Britain protested outside London’s luxurious Savoy Hotel, where King Mswati was said to be staying with an entourage of more than 30 people.
Swaziland Vigil co-ordinator Thobile Gwebu said that in contrast Swazis had been reduced to eating cow dung.
She said Swazis in Britain did not want to spoil the jubilee celebrations but had written to Queen Elizabeth, asking her to influence King Mswati.
Meanwhile former Europe minister Denis MacShane blasted the Foreign Office — thought to have assisted on logistical matters — for not stopping King Hamad’s invite.
The Bahraini regime “has done such terrible things to its own people since the Arab awakening a year ago”, he said.
“For too long we have turned a blind eye to the repression carried out under the rule of royals in Arabia.”
The Foreign Office “should protect the British queen rather than expose her to having to dine with a despot”.
Prominent rights campaigner Peter Tatchell went further, saying that “inviting blood-stained despots brings shame to our monarchy and tarnishes the diamond jubilee celebrations”.
He said the monarchs of Brunei, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and the United Arab Emirates all “preside over regimes that abuse human rights”.
Queen Elizabeth, 86, and her husband Prince Philip, 90, visited northwest England on Thursday as part of their jubilee tour of Britain. They took a trip round the Albert Dock in Liverpool in an amphibious “Yellow Duckmarine”.