Queen in Perth after rapturous Melbourne welcome

26th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Perth Wednesday to open a summit of Commonwealth leaders after being greeted by adoring crowds in Melbourne where she rode a royal-themed commemorative tram.

The monarch, 85, will officially open the 54-nation Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on Friday where revamping succession to the British throne will be discussed, concluding a 10-day tour of her antipodean realm.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has written to the leaders of the 15 other Commonwealth nations where the queen is head of state to propose allowing first-born daughters and heirs who marry Catholics to inherit the throne.

The issue has taken on new momentum since the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in April, but this was far from the queen's mind as she touched down for a day visit to Melbourne in a private air force jet.

Wearing a silk dress with pink oriental blossoms and a matching coat and hat of a shade described by commentators as "shocking pink", she opened the revamped Royal Children's Hospital.

While there, the queen met "miracle" Bangladeshi twins Trishna and Krishna, who were formerly conjoined but were separated at the hospital in marathon surgery in December 2009.

She toured the hospital before a formal re-dedication ceremony where she was warmly applauded and met the four-year-old twins, rescued by Australian charity workers from a Dhaka orphanage and one of the hospital's great success stories.

"We've been practising very hard to do what we're calling the ballerina curtsey," said guardian Moira Kelly.

"She was very gentle towards the girls, it was very touching."

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch's mother Elisabeth was present and chatted for several moments with the queen, who appointed her a Dame back in 1963 in recognition of her work for the hospital.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu said it was a great honour to receive the queen in his state, which "proudly bears the name of Her Majesty's most distinguished great-great-grandmother."

The monarch then made her way to Federation Square, the city's central plaza, where thousands gathered to see her walk the red carpet and her aides struggled under the weight of massive floral tributes and gifts.

Fans treated her to impromptu rounds of "God Save the Queen" and held signs aloft declaring "Australia Loves Our Queen", in scenes akin to the rock-star reception for US talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey in the city last December.

"We are estimating 10,000 in the square and tens of thousands in the streets around the square," a Federation Square spokeswoman told AFP.

The plaza itself was completely packed, forcing people to spill into the surrounding blocks, a "fantastic" turnout which rivalled Winfrey's, she added.

Several protesters were arrested and some in the crowd held a banner condemning the country's pollution tax and calling on the queen to dissolve the country's minority coalition government, but things were peaceful.

Crowds were 20-deep along the route to Government House, which the queen travelled by tram to attend an official luncheon.

Trams are an icon of the southern city, Australia's second-biggest, and it was the monarch's first trip on one in almost 10 years.

Specially refurbished and painted in blue, white and red for the occasion, the 31-year-old tram was flanked by police on horseback and displayed "Royal Tram" as its route, with "ER" -- the queen's insignia -- on a side panel.

The queen is warmly regarded in Australia, where some 75 percent of the population turned out for her maiden 1954 trip, and has again been greeted with huge crowds wherever she goes.

© 2011 AFP

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