Cheers for queen at sombre Australian war memorial

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Loud cheers greeted Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as she visited Australia's national war memorial in Canberra on Tuesday where she laid a wreath in a sombre remembrance of fallen soldiers.

An ecstatic crowd of about 1,000 turned out in dreary weather to see the 85-year-old monarch step from her car wearing a cappuccino-coloured coat and matching hat, with her husband Prince Philip by her side.

The queen paused to wave to the crowd before walking inside the stone monument, where she laid a wreath of bright red poppies on the tomb of Australia's Unknown Soldier.

The monarch bowed her head as a military bugler played the Last Post and she then observed the traditional minute's silence that followed.

As rain began to pelt down outside, the queen and Prince Philip walked along the poppy-lined walls of the memorial where people had placed flowers in honour of fallen Australian soldiers, before signing the visitors book.

She later braved a break in the downpour to meet with members of the crowd, many of whom had waited hours in the rain to welcome her. She beamed as she accepted scores of posies of flowers and other mementos from children.

The queen is on a 10-day visit to the former British colony where she is much respected despite the country's occasional moves towards becoming a republic, with thousands turning out to see her engagements so far.

In what some have said could be her last visit to her realm Down Under, the queen has already paid special tribute to Australia's involvement in war, including in the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.

In an address at Parliament House on Friday, the queen said Australians made a significant contribution to world peace-keeping.

"This does not come without a price, and we are all conscious of the sacrifices made by the Australian armed services in international operations," she told a gathering which included Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"Their valour has been well recognised, in particular with the awarding of the Victoria Cross to two servicemen for outstanding bravery in Afghanistan.

"I also share the grief felt by those families, friends and colleagues of the 29 service personnel who have been killed during this conflict."

The queen, who first travelled to Australia in 1954, will also meet with defence force personnel including veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

The monarch, in Australia to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth on Friday, is fondly regarded in her former dominion with about 45,000 turning out to see her in flood-hit Queensland state on Monday.

"I think people feel so close to the Queen," David Flint, convenor of the group Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, told Macquarie Radio.

"She's been the queen for more than half the life of the country."

© 2011 AFP

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