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The old empire awaits the royal wedding

Australia Wedding China AP

April 28: Shoppers look at a display of commemorative Prince William and Kate Middleton fine china in a store the CBD of Sydney, Australia.AP

They gathered Friday in distant outposts of what used to be the British empire, a world of not-quite-subjects awaiting the wedding of the heir to the crown.

They tuned in early in India, celebrated the Kiwi godmother to Kate Middleton's father in New Zealand and welcomed the day in Hong Kong with Chinese-language TV commentary from a well-known wedding designer.

"Of course I'm watching. It's the biggest event of the century," said Jasmine Bhomia, an 18-year-old student in New Delhi — who then added that this wedding would, one day, be eclipsed by Prince Harry's.

And then there was Australia, where pubs across the country were hoping to cash in on the frenzy by holding royal wedding bashes that featured everything from wedding dress contests to bouquet-tossing competitions.

England once governed a huge swath of the planet, with millions of subjects from the Caribbean to East Africa to India. Though the empire is long gone, some former colonies, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, still retain the British monarch as their symbolic head of state. Dozens more countries retain looser ties through the British Commonwealth.

In Australia, the wedding hoopla has raised the prickly issue of whether the country should dump the British monarch and become a republic. Although many Australians — particularly British immigrants and their descendants — are fiercely loyal to the queen, younger Australians tend to favor independence.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been outspoken about hoping Australia will drop its royal ties, leading some to question why she would attend the wedding.

"There are many republicans in Australia. There are also many Australians who want to see our continued ties to the monarchy," Gillard told reporters in South Korea earlier this week when asked about the controversy.

"I received an invitation to go to the royal wedding and I think — on behalf of the nation — it's appropriate that I'm there."