British royals charm Quebecers, protests kept away

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Prince William and his bride Catherine charmed a crush of well-wishers in Quebec City on Sunday as police lines kept republican protests far from their first official foreign trip as newlyweds.

The duchess of Cambridge, sporting a blue lace Jacquenta dress by Canadian designer Erdem, accepted flowers from wide-eyed young girls as her husband the duke exchanged polite banter and shook hands with fans outside city hall.

William, who spoke in French and apologized for his awkward accent, thanked supporters for their warm welcome, coming one day after anti-monarchist protests in Montreal marred their tour of Canada.

"I hope that we will have the chance to get to know each other over the years to come," he said, pledging to return to the city, once the cradle of French civilization in North America that spanned from Acadia in easternmost Canada to Louisiana in the southern United States.

As the prince spoke, a small plane passed overhead dragging a banner across the sky touting a controversial phrase delivered by French president Charles de Gaulle in Montreal in 1967, "Long live a free Quebec."

But it was as close to disrupting the royal visit as protestors would get.

A few blocks away, some 200 republican demonstrators with placards that read "end to the monarchy" and "William go home" jeered and chanted for an independent Quebec but were drowned out by well-wishers' cheers.

Organizers of the demonstration had promised to top angry protests in Montreal on Saturday.

Riot police were called outside a Montreal children's hospital the royal couple visited and at the Quebec tourism and hotel business institute where they took a cooking class to keep the peace.

In Quebec City, barricades kept protesters away from the royal tour.

Britain conquered the former French colony of Quebec in 1763, but its culture and language survived, and today it is a bastion of French culture in North America.

British rule, however, still evokes resentment in some quarters of the Canadian province.

According to historians, Quebecers' relationship with the monarchy has seen many ups and downs.

After crushing rebellions in the 1800s, the British monarchy gained support in Quebec for shielding its religion, laws and language from assimilation, but lost it once again when Quebec youth were conscripted to fight in the First and Second World Wars.

Quebec nationalism firmed during a decade of change in the 1960s, leading to two referendums on independence in 1980 and 1995. On both occasions, Quebecers rejected independence, but only narrowly the last time.

As a member of the Commonwealth, Canada's official head of state is the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by a governor general.

But in Quebec, where 83 percent of the population speaks French and only 10 percent speak English, disaffection with the royals runs as high as 60 percent, according to a poll on the eve of William and Kate's visit.

Earlier Sunday, William, second in line for the British throne, and Kate arrived from Montreal on a navy frigate and were welcomed by a Huron aboriginal chief to the bustling metropolis of Quebec City rooted in the early days of the fur trade.

Wearing a traditional aboriginal headdress made of wild turkey feathers, Grand Chief Konrad Sioui and William pored over a copy of the first treaty between the British monarch and aboriginals here, signed in 1760.

"The prince and I have a similar responsibility to ensure the treaty is upheld," Sioui commented.

William and Kate also toured the city's old quarter, perched atop a cliff that overlooks the point where the Saint Lawrence River widens on its way to the open sea. It remains the only fortified American city north of Mexico and a UNESCO world heritage site.

As well, they visited the ceremonial home of the Royal 22e Regiment, also known as the Van Doos -- a corruption of vingt-deux (French for 22) -- the best known francophone and largest regiment in Her Majesty's Canadian Forces.

From Montreal and Quebec City, they would move on to Charlottetown for dragon boat races and rescue trials aboard a sea helicopter, to Yellowknife for aboriginal sports and to Calgary for a rodeo.

© 2011 AFP

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