October 25, 2018 / 8:13 AM / 22 days ago

Tongan princess greets Harry and Meghan in South Pacific nation

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Tongan princess welcomed Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan on Thursday when they arrived in the tiny South Pacific nation, before driving into the capital as thousands of schoolchildren cheered and waved flags along the way.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at Fua'amotu airport on the main island Tongatapu in Tonga October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Princess Lātūfuipeka Tukuʻaho, the eldest daughter of King Tupou, shook hands and curtseyed to greet Harry, clad in beige linen suit and Meghan, who wore a long-sleeved red dress in the colour of the Tongan flag, with a label visible at the hem.

“How do we love thee, Meghan? Oh let us count the ways,” said one Twitter user, Talita Kefu of San Mateo in California, in a message on the social network.

“Thank you for donning our national colours.”

Dancers in woven skirts and necklaces crafted from red flowers and feathers in their hair sang and clapped to welcome the royal couple to the Polynesian kingdom, made up of 170 mostly uninhabited islands.

Red-and-white balloons and streamers dotted the route of their motorcade into Nuku’alofa, the capital, while schoolchildren in red and white uniforms waved small plastic British and Tongan flags and cheered excitedly.

Tonga is the only sovereign constitutional monarchy in Oceania that retains its own royal family, while the region’s other constitutional monarchies, like Australia and New Zealand, recognise Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as their head of state.

The couple dine with Tupou before an audience on Friday with Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, who briefly found himself at the centre of a diplomatic storm in August, when he called for China to forgive mounting debt in the region.

Tonga is one of seven island nations in the South Pacific indebted to China, which is building influence in the region.

The visit by the British royal couple, who announced last week that they are expecting a child, follows a tour of Fiji and Australia, where they will return for the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games in Sydney, before wrapping up in New Zealand.

Reporting by Kate Ashton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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