LONDON – Britain has come under criticism for inviting the king of Bahrain, whose Gulf state has engaged in a brutal crackdown on political dissent, to a lunch Friday celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.
The lunch in Windsor Castle was the largest gathering of foreign royals in Britain since Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, Prince William, was married to Kate Middleton last year. Then, as now, the decision to extend an invitation to members of the Bahraini royal family has angered those who are upset by the deadly violence deployed against demonstrators since protests erupted in the Gulf state.
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa eventually skipped the royal wedding, saying he didn't want the controversy to tarnish the couple's happy day. But on Friday, Buckingham Palace confirmed that his father, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, attended the queen's lunch — along with some 45 other royal guests from around the world.
He did not attend a more formal banquet hosted by heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla at Buckingham Palace on Friday evening.
Labour lawmaker and former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane said diplomats should have tried to keep Al Khalifa away from the queen, "rather than expose her to having to dine with a despot." Republic, the anti-monarchy group, called the lunch invitation "a catastrophic error of judgment" which "seriously damages Britain's reputation."
The Foreign Office, which advised Buckingham Palace on the invitations, said that Britain's ties to Bahrain allowed U.K. officials to talk frankly with the strategic island nation's rulers about "a range of issues including those where we have concerns."
Al Khalifa wasn't the only controversial guest dining at Windsor Castle. Swaziland's King Mswati III, who is accused of living in luxury while his people go hungry, also attended the lunch. Earlier this week, protesters gathered outside the exclusive London hotel where he was rumored to be staying with a large entourage.
There wasn't anything in the way of protest outside Windsor Castle on Friday. Sky News television footage showed a handful of royal supporters clutching red-and-white Bahraini flags.
The Diamond Jubilee marks 60 years of Elizabeth's reign as Britain's monarch and is being celebrated around the country with concerts, pageants and military displays. Song writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow have written a Diamond Jubilee song that will be performed at a celebration concert on June 4.