Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Barbados PM plans to cut ties to crown

President would replace English monarch as head of state

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) -- The prime minister of Barbados has announced plans to make the Caribbean island a republic, replacing the Queen of England as the official head of state with a locally elected president.

The government will present Parliament with a draft bill to amend the former British colony's constitution in March, Prime Minister Owen Arthur told supporters Sunday night.

"The moment is coming this year. We will move this country to a higher and mature plane of political development," said Arthur, who has led his island-nation since 1994.

He said Barbados should switch to a republic because it is "secure in its own identity to have one of its own become its supreme head of state."

Arthur said he favors a system where the president is head of state, although he didn't say if Barbados would remain a member of the British Commonwealth.

Barbados became independent in 1966, but still recognizes the Queen of England as the official head of state. The queen is represented on the island by the largely ceremonial role of governor general.

Barbados' opposition had no immediate comment on the plan.

Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds approval in Parliament. Arthur's Barbados Labor Party holds 23 of 30 parliamentary seats.

Though many Barbadians are fond of their British ties, pro-republic sentiment on the island of 278,000 has increased in recent years, following a trend in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In 2003, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson announced plans to make the island a republic, possibly before the 2007 general elections.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.