LONDON (Reuters) - Crowds celebrating the Queen’s 60th year on the throne jeered and sang the national anthem on Sunday to drown out a noisy protest by republicans calling for Britons to end centuries of history and overthrow the monarchy.
Waving banners demanding “Votes not Boats” and “Make Monarchy History”, more than 100 demonstrators braved driving rain and chill winds in the shadow of Tower Bridge to demand an elected head of state for Britain.
Organisers said their membership had “rocketed” since last year’s marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton and during the build-up to the queen’s pageant on the River Thames.
Graham Smith, head of Republic, the campaign group that organised the protest, said the Diamond Jubilee was “no big deal” and had been hyped by Britain’s main broadcasters as part of a public relations exercise.
“It is about speaking up for the millions of people in this country who are opposed to the monarchy,” he told Reuters. “She is a failed head of state because she doesn’t inspire people, she has never spoken up at times of crisis. Her achievement is just staying alive, doing little and saying less.”
However, polls suggest most Britons are still happy to be ruled by a hereditary monarch whose powers are largely symbolic.
The protesters were surrounded by a sea of cheering spectators lining the river, hoping to catch a glimpse of the monarch’s barge and an armada of 1,000 vessels.
One woman wearing a red, white and blue cowboy hat and carrying a Union Jack flag taunted the republican gathering with a rendition of “God Save the Queen”, raising cheers from the crowds.
“I love the Queen. She has served us well for 60 years,” said Gloria Brown, 70, who held a brief debate with some of the protesters in a good-natured stand-off which ended with hugs and a cheer from the republicans of “Gloria for President”.
Republic organisers said several hundred people took part in their biggest protest yet, including scores prevented by police from reaching the packed riverside.
Support for the monarch, who became queen on the death of her father George VI in 1952, has grown over the last year, polls suggest. A YouGov survey in May put support for the monarchy at 73 percent, four points higher than a year ago.
But opponents of the royal family said it was time for change and have likened the celebrations to North Korea’s outpouring of emotion after the death of Kim Jong-il.
“Foreign viewers asked if the (Korean) emotion could possibly be genuine,” columnist Catherine Bennett wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
“From abroad, the current bunting explosion, officially inhospitable to dissent and focused on a non-sweating monarch of peerless virtue, must make Britons look almost as mad.”
Editing by Paul Casciato