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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Britain's King Charles III greets fans as he arrives at The Bordeaux's Hotel de Ville (city hall) in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on September 22, 2023. — AFP pic
BORDEAUX, Sept 23 — King Charles III on Friday enjoyed a warm welcome from cheering crowds, a glass of organic wine and even an encounter with llamas as he wrapped up a state visit to France with a stop in the southwestern city of Bordeaux focused on the environment.
The 74-year-old British head of state’s three days of diplomacy have sought closer cross-Channel links after Brexit but also closer cooperation on environmental issues, his lifelong passion, that are now top of the global political agenda.
The tour, rescheduled from March after unrest in France over pension reforms forced a last-minute postponement, included a glittering state dinner at the Palace of Versailles as well as a landmark address at the Senate, and been largely well received.
Crowds of Union Jack-waving well-wishers gathered outside Bordeaux city hall to welcome Charles and Queen Camilla as they arrived after landing at the city’s airport, with the royal couple happily mingling and shaking hands, AFP correspondents said.
The welcome was even more cheerful than that the king and queen received during their stay in Paris, with the royal couple at times lost from view amid a sea of outstretched arms recording the scene for posterity with phones and occasional shouts of “long live the king”.
“We like this kind of event, just going there and taking photos, because these are social moments, which bring people together,” said Marie, a 20-year-old student. “The political culture in France is completely different, but that’s what’s interesting to see too.”
Walking through the centre of Bordeaux, Charles and Camilla were also given a rousing welcome by the Fiji rugby team, in town for the World Cup, with the Pacific islanders treating the couple to a full-throated rendition of a hymn.
Bordeaux is well placed to illustrate the point hammered home throughout Charles’ visit, about Britain and France’s shared personal, political and cultural history.
It became a British possession in 1152, when the future English king Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine, effectively beginning three centuries of English dominance in the region, until the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453.
The British influence remains: some 39,000 British expats live in Bordeaux — the highest number in France.
Bordeaux’s Green mayor Pierre Hurmic said he had no problem finding a common language with Charles, who was also given a trip on the electric trams that have in recent years transformed the city centre.
“We spoke very simply, naturally. In both French and in English. But our common language is ecology,” Hurmic said.
Later in the day, Charles celebrated defence ties between the two NATO allies aboard the British frigate HMS Iron Duke.
Ironically, the vessel is named after the Duke of Wellington, the British commander who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
In a key engagement on a visit where the environment has always been centre stage, Charles then inspected a research centre looking at how forests are adapting to climate change.
Huge fires, fuelled by drought and high temperatures, ripped through the southwestern Gironde region last year.
His last stop before heading home was a visit to the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte vineyard, which has become a model of sustainable practices, where he sampled the local wine and even met the llamas kept in the vineyard.
The vineyard, founded in the 14th century and named after its Scottish former owner George Smith, uses organic compost and carbon dioxide recycling technology, shunning pesticides and herbicides.
On Thursday, Charles called for a new Franco-British partnership for the environment — an alliance for sustainability — as part of a wider effort to repair the frayed political ties caused by Brexit.
Speaking to lawmakers in the upper chamber of parliament — a first for a British monarch — he notably called climate change “our most existential challenge of all”.
“So proud,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X, formerly Twitter, as he posted a video of the highlights of the visit.
The trip ended with the royal couple flying out of Bordeaux airport bound for Scotland in the early evening, with a final wave as they boarded the plane. — AFP
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