SYDNEY (Reuters) – British Prince Harry and his wife Meghan landed in Fiji on Tuesday for the first real visit to the South Pacific nation since a military coup suspended him from the Commonwealth for eight years until democratic elections.
Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018. REUTERS / Phil Noble / Pool
Hundreds of spectators waved small plastic flags of Fiji and Britain while Harry, dressed in a gray suit with three medals, and Meghan, dressed in a long-sleeved cream dress and a matching hat, took to the track outside the capital, Suva.
"Despite the rain, Fijians are in large numbers with their umbrellas to welcome their royal highnesses," the Fiji government said on the Twitter social network, along with images of crowds waiting to greet the couple.
The Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, received the couple, who were presented with a bouquet of tropical flowers before the inspection of an honor guard who paid attention in red and white military uniforms.
Thousands of men, women and school-aged children lined up on the official caravan route of the couple to the center of Suva, with many spectators smiling, waving and holding handwritten posters.
"Welcome to Fiji, Prince and Princess," read one that seemed to have been written in an old cardboard box.
Harry and Meghan will be greeted at a ceremony in a park in Suva, which will be a welcome for Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Men in traditional skirts with garlands of leaves and flowers lined up waiting to perform a ceremony.
The former British colony of 300 tropical islands, with a population of approximately 910,000, was suspended from the British Commonwealth and isolated internationally after Bainimarama, then commander of the army, took power in a bloodless coup d'état in 2006.
Although it was reestablished in 2014, after Bainimarama won the democratic elections, repairing Commonwealth ties has taken a long time, while Fiji has deepened relations with strategic rivals such as China.
Before Tuesday, the last visit of British royalty to the island was made by Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth, in July 2006.
The couple, who married in May and announced last week that they were expecting a child, will travel to Tonga and return to Australia for the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games before concluding their tour in New Zealand.
Fiji plans to hold elections on November 14, with the first Bainimarama party in Fiji favored to win an opposition led by Sitiveni Rabuka, who led the country's first military coup in 1987.
Kate Ashton report; Edited by Clarence Fernández