Queen of England receives less than royal welcome

LIMASSOL, CYPRUS — LIMASSOL, Cyprus -- The queen of England got no red carpet when she arrived in Cyprus, but every time the sultan of Brunei pulled up to his hotel here, the staff rolled out the rug and snapped to attention.

We are talking important: This guy is said to be worth maybe $50 billion (with a b), the world's richest man. (For two bonus points: Where is Brunei?)


The queen, a woman forced to count pennies and charge admission to her palace, suffered a poorer greeting. She was jeered on her arrival in Cyprus, hooted when she got a key to Nicosia, the capital, and her Rolls-Royce was attacked by a crazed doctor in handcuffs.

Such is the news from the Commonwealth Conference, which ended yesterday after a five-day stint in Cyprus.


If you had not heard much from this conference, it wasn't for lack of trying. Local officials said "500-odd journalists" -- an apt description, no doubt -- covered the event.

Most of them were Brits, or at least Anglophiles. Serious journalists seemed chagrined to be here, and skulked about with their portable computers under beach towels.

For the British, the Commonwealth Conference is a reminder of the old days of glory when they ran the world, and an opportunity for pretension to power.

It is a gathering of the 49 present and former colonies of Great Britain. All of them have gone more or less their own way, but the queen still swears her service to the Commonwealth and presides over the biannual conference.

Officials can argue the Commonwealth is important. It is a unique gathering of rich and poor nations. They include more than one-third the world's countries, and one-fourth the world's people.

But the headline on the Cyprus Mail said it all: "Main issues fail to excite."

The paper, with suitable understatement, explained "the Commonwealth . . . is not a major force in world politics."

The roster may provide a clue. Once through Canada, India and Australia, you are quickly down to countries such as Tuvalu, Maldives, Seychelles, and Belize. (Time's up: Brunei is an independent Mayasian sultanate composed of 372,000 people and lots of oil. The sultan, for those further interested, is a dapper fellow with two wives, nine children and a phalanx of bodyguards.)


The United States, 13 of which were former colonies, is not in the Commonwealth. Something about the ungrateful way we ended the relationship.

The main topic of past Commonwealth Conferences was apartheid in South Africa. They condemned it.

But South Africa's Nobel-scoring progress has evaporated that issue. Members spent most of this conference thumping on about the value of free trade.

Naturally, the sideshow got more attention. The queen's churlish reception gave the British editorialists something to cluck over. "Surly bad manners," sniffed the Daily Mail.

The demonstrators condemned Britain's colonialism of the 1950s and its failure to stop the Turkish invasion of this island in 1974. And they blamed the queen -- incorrectly, it turned out -- for rejecting a leniency plea for nine Greek Cypriot nationalists hanged by Britain in the 1950s after a string of murders.

What the protests lacked in refinement they made up in graphic effect. Someone set up nine gallows in the main square of Nicosia. Christos Androu, 47, staged a 12-day hunger strike, and collected a bucket of spit from passers-by for the queen.


Some 40,000 female protesters were to line up hand-in-hand on the queen's route, though most stayed home in the unusually hot weather. The whole reception was said to be the worst since a Maori tribesman bared his posterior to the queen during her 1986 visit to New Zealand.

Never mind. It was fun to have royalty on the small island. Locals joined British tourists, in their white socks and sandals, lining up to catch a glimpse of a gloved hand waving from behind the darkened windows of the queen's Rolls-Royce.

The assault on that car came from a physician intern who had threatened to throw himself off the Limassol Town Hall window ledge, one flight up. He smashed the windshield of the car as it was parked by the police garage.

The queen, as always a model of decorum, never mentioned it. Asked for her reaction to her reception, a Buckingham Palace spokesman reported the queen had a "full and fascinating day."