Jamaica a republic in four years, says premier

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JAMAICA should drop the Queen as head of state and become a republic within the next four years, the country’s prime minister has told his party.

"I love the Queen dearly ... but the time has come when we must have a head of state chosen by us, representative of us and immediately accountable to us," Percival James ("PJ") Patterson, told supporters at the close of his People’s National Party’s annual conference on Sunday night.

Mr Patterson said he hopes to enact the change before the 2007 general elections, when he plans to step down as prime minister.

Such a move would require amending Jamaica’s constitution.

Jamaica’s main opposition party has expressed its support, but has differed on the role of the future president. It prefers retaining the prime minister as chief policy-maker while appointing a largely ceremonial president similar to the governor-general, the Queen’s representative in the government.

Mr Patterson’s party favours an executive president elected by the people, but he said he’s willing to accept the opposition’s position in order to "fulfil the national desire".

He said: "The majority of people in Jamaica are ready to consign to history the last vestiges of colonialism."

Representatives of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party were unavailable for comment.

Jamaica declared independence from Britain in 1962 but remains within the British Commonwealth. It is one of 12 Caribbean countries that retain the Queen as head of state.

Though most Jamaicans are fond of the woman affectionately known as "Mrs Queen", republican sentiment on the island of 2.6 million has increased in recent years.

In 2002, Jamaica’s parliament moved to sever ties with Britain by changing its oath of allegiance from the Queen to the Jamaican constitution.

Earlier this year, Jamaica announced it would join several Caribbean neighbours in abandoning the London-based Privy Council as its final appellate court in favour of a regional tribunal, which could be in place by November.

The Privy Council had angered Jamaicans by striking down the decisions of local courts and appearing to oppose the death penalty. Many in the country hope the establishment of the new court will open the way to judicial hangings that will act as a deterrent to those fuelling the country’s high crime rate.

Yet the move has been opposed by human rights activists who believe that corruption in the country’s legal and police systems means the Privy Council is desperately needed to ensure citizens are guaranteed a fair trial.

Royal visit cost of harry's security

HIS gap-year trip to Australia was to have been a four- month whirl of rugby, polo and art. But Prince Harry was greeted yesterday by a political storm over revelations that Australian taxpayers were paying 300,000 for security during his unofficial visit.

"We welcome visitors to Australia and are quite happy for him to spend what seems to be a terrific, planned end-of-school excursion but I don’t think we should be paying for what seems to me to be over-the-top security arrangements," the Australian Republican Movement chairman, John Warhurst, said.

Australian Labour politicians agreed. "I think maybe we should look carefully at the cost-sharing arrangements with the British government on this, because [300,000] is a lot of money," Labour’s foreign spokesman, Kevin Rudd, said.

However, Conservative government ministers saw the security costs differently.

"We would have to spend five times that amount to get the same positive publicity for Australia in the United Kingdom," the tourism minister, Joe Hockey, said.