Bahrain crown prince to miss British royal wedding

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Bahrain's crown prince on Sunday turned down a controversial invitation to the royal wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton because of ongoing unrest in the Gulf kingdom.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa had previously confirmed his attendance, fuelling criticism of the couple for inviting royals from Bahrain and other countries where protests have been crushed in recent weeks.

He said he had delayed sending his regrets, hoping for the situation in Bahrain to improve before the wedding in London's Westminster Abbey on April 29, which will be attended by royals from around 40 countries.

In a statement from his office in Manama, the crown prince said British media had "misrepresented" his stance and "clearly sought to involve my potential attendance as a political proxy for wider matters involving Bahrain."

Media reports had speculated that Crown Prince Salman would withdraw to avoid embarrassment after a bloody crackdown on mainly Shiite Muslim protesters in Sunni-ruled Bahrain left at least 24 people dead.

St James's Palace, William's official residence, confirmed the decision.

"We were informed today that he will not be attending the wedding," a spokesman told AFP, declining to give any details about the reasons for the crown prince's withdrawal.

The list of confirmed guests released by the palace on Saturday includes celebrities such as include footballer David Beckham and his fashion designer wife Victoria, musician Elton John and "Mr Bean" actor Rowan Atkinson.

But anti-monarchy campaign group Republic hit out at inclusion of royals from not only Bahrain but also Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brunei, Qatar, Swaziland, Lesotho, Bhutan and Kuwait.

"This guest list reads like a 'Who's Who' of tyrants and their cronies," Republic chief Graham Smith said.

"Whatever happened to William's supposedly strong social conscience? He must take personal responsibility for this and rescind the invitations immediately."

Leading gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the invitations of "royal tyrants" from Bahrain, Swaziland and Saudi Arabia were a "massive misjudgement".

St James's Palace said earlier that it had sought advice from Britain's foreign ministry on guests from abroad.

"Invitations are extended from the queen following the long-held tradition of inviting other crowned heads of state, we have taken advice from the Foreign Office about their continued inclusion on the list," a spokesman said.

Swazi demonstrators were planning to demonstrate on Tuesday outside the Dorchester hotel in London on Wednesday, where the country's King Mswati III will be staying, South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper reported.

In early April, police in debt-hit Swaziland stopped anti-government protests from going ahead by detaining, beating and tear-gassing demonstrators.

Meanwhile British newspapers also pointed out that Labour ex-premiers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were snubbed on the list while former Conservative leaders Margaret Thatcher and John Major were invited.

"Labour MPs will not be alone in thinking it odd the two former occupants of Number 10 (Downing Street) have not been invited to the wedding," the Sunday Telegraph commented.

Royal officials said Blair, who was in power from 1997-2007, and Brown, who was premier from 2007-2010, were not invited because unlike Major and Thatcher they are not Knights of the Garter, Britain's highest honour.

St James's Palace said the wedding was "not a state occasion so there is no reason why they (Blair and Brown) would be invited," the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Major -- who was Britain's prime minister from 1990-1997 and acted as a guardian to Princes William and Harry after the death of their mother Diana -- will attend, but Thatcher, the so-called "Iron Lady" who was in power from 1979 to 1990, has declined on health grounds.

© 2011 AFP

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