Quebec separatists protest William and Kate visit

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A small but vocal group of anti-monarchists met Prince William and his wife Catherine in Quebec Saturday during their Canadian tour with chants of "Down with the monarchy!"

"We will never bend, Willy go home!" some 60 of protesters shouted outside a Montreal children's hospital the royal couple visited. "French Quebec!" and "Parasite go home!" they chanted.

The group pounded on buckets as the couple entered the hospital without acknowledging them, drowning out a much larger group of well-wishers, many of whom cried out "We love you Kate!"

More protests are expected on the royal couple's next stop in Quebec City on Sunday.

Britain conquered Quebec, a former French colony, 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.

Saturday's demonstration was organized by a group whose stated objective is the defense of the French language in North America.

Its president, Mario Beaulieu, told AFP the duke and duchess's visit "raises the issue of francophone assimilation," as well as "the linguistic purging of Quebec, in which the Canadian government is complicit."

According to Beaulieu, the monarchy "is an obsolete institution, anti-democratic and sexist, and Quebec wants none of it."

A poll released on the eve of the duke and duchess's visit found that a third of Canadians want to cut ties with the British monarchy.

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 the Angus Reid survey.

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.

Quebec twice rejected independence in referendums in 1980 and 1995, the last time by a narrow margin.

Separatists would like to hold a third vote, but recent infighting has marred their organization.

Prince William, second in line to the British throne, and his wife celebrated Canada Day among hundreds of thousands of adoring fans in Ottawa, with fireworks and musical performances on Friday.

The duchess of Cambridge smiled broadly and exchanged polite banter as she shook hands with the crowd for longer than the intended hour.

The Quebec leg of their trip, however, includes no major public events, apparently an attempt to reduce possible confrontations with anti-monarchists or separatists like the one that embarrassed William's father, Prince Charles, when he visited in 2009.

Quebec separatists clashed with riot police outside an army hall at the time, delaying the arrival of the prince of Wales.

Late Saturday, William and Kate were scheduled to take a cooking class at the Quebec Institute of Tourism and Hotel Business, then sail overnight aboard a navy frigate to Quebec City for a tour of the historic fortified quarter known as the Citadel.

The couple will also meet with members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, the most famous francophone unit in the Canadian Forces.

The Quebec nationalist group RRQ has called for a rude welcome in Quebec City for the couple.

William and Catherine are very likable, protest organizer Patrick Bourgeois told AFP, but are being used by Ottawa to give the world a false impression that Quebec's separatist movement has faded away and its members now accept being part of a Canadian federation dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

Earlier Saturday, the couple planted a ceremonial tree at the Ottawa residence of the governor general symbolizing their everlasting "love and marriage" and unveiled a massive painting at the Canadian War Museum.

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

© 2011 AFP

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