The British royal family is welcoming foreign royals for events leading up to the Queen's jubilee. The king of Bahrain's inclusion has sparked a furore, calling into question the participation of so-called despots.
Controversy shadowed Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee lunch on Friday as King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain, whose regime stands accused of human rights abuses, planned to attend along with nearly 50 other royals.
"The sovereign's lunch is a matter for Buckingham Palace, but we understand all reigning sovereigns have been invited," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said earlier. "The jubilee celebrations are about marking 60 years of the queen's reign, they are not a political event."
Buckingham Palace said the Foreign Office approved the invitation to King Hamad.
King Hamad's attendance was the second controversy to make headlines regarding the event following Spain's Queen Sophia's withdrawal from the guest list. She pulled out of the celebrations amid tensions over Gibraltar.
There have also been protests over the invitation of Swaziland's King Mswati III.
Friday's lunch is the biggest gathering of foreign royalty in Britain since last year's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Making it political, or not
Veteran British lawmaker Dennis MacShane, a former Europe minister, said the queen should have been better protected against controversy.
The Bahraini regime "has done such terrible things to its own people since the Arab awakening a year ago," MacShane said. He noted that the Foreign Office "should protect the British queen rather than expose her to having to dine with a despot."
Spectators who gathered to see the arrival of distinguished guests for Friday's lunch were more interested in the royal celebration than in politics.
"The Foreign Office did the right thing to invite everybody. I don't think the queen should be drawn into politics," said Robert Charles, 72, a retired factory owner.
On Friday night a dinner for most of the foreign royals will be held at Buckingham Palace and hosted by Prince Charles. King Hamad will not be in attendance.
Human rights activists, nonetheless, have promised to stage a protest outside the palace before the dinner of what they are calling "dictator monarchs."
These meals are some of the main events in the run-up to four days of celebrations on June 2-5 to mark the queen's 60th year on the throne.
tm/jm (AFP, AP)