Prince William expresses 'profound sorrow' over Britain's role in 'abhorrent' slave trade

William and Kate Middleton's visit to Jamaica was shunned by Jamaicans who demanded an apology and slavery reparations

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Prince William expressed his "profound sorrow" over slavery and Britain's role in it during a speech he delivered in Jamaica on Wednesday night.

"I want to express my profound sorrow. Slavery was abhorrent. And it should never have happened," the Duke of Cambridge said during a dinner hosted by the Governor General of Jamaica at King's House in Kingston, Jamaica.

"While the pain runs deep, Jamaica continues to forge its future with determination, courage and fortitude," William continued. "The strength and shared sense of purpose of the Jamaican people, represented in your flag and motto, celebrate an invincible spirit."

Prince William also repeated words his father Prince Charles used in a speech he made in Barbados last year in which he condemned "the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history."

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William, 39, said he "strongly" agreed with his father's words.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks on stage during a dinner hosted by the Governor General of Jamaica at King's House on March 23, 2022 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks on stage during a dinner hosted by the Governor General of Jamaica at King's House on March 23, 2022 in Kingston, Jamaica. (Samir Hussein - Pool/WireImage)

Meanwhile, Kate Middleton made headlines for her glamorous look for the occasion. Kate stunned in an emerald green gown and wore her hair up in a braided updo. According to reports, she accessorized her look with emerald jewels provided by Queen Elizabeth.

The Duke of Cambridge's speech came just days after dozens of well-known leaders in Jamaica including professors and politicians demanded an apology and slavery reparations as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepared for their trip to the former British colony.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William and Kate on Wednesday that the British commonwealth intends to become fully independent in an unexpected announcement that comes as other countries consider cutting ties with the monarchy.

Holness also noted that there are "unresolved" issues as he greeted Prince William and Kate in front of a media scrum.

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Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. (Samir Hussein - Pool/WireImage)

"We are moving on," he said. "We intend to...fulfill our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country."

The former British colony would become only the second Caribbean island to sever relations with Queen Elizabeth II in recent years, with Barbados doing so in November.

The royal couple, who flanked Holness on either side when he made the announcement, did not immediately react except for only a couple of brief head nods.

The announcement surprised many on the island of nearly 3 million people and unleashed a flurry of text messages and phone calls.

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"I did not know that the prime minister was going to say what he said today. I think it is a very important step forward," said Carla Gullota, director of Stand Up for Jamaica, a nonprofit human rights organization that joined dozens of other groups and leaders in signing a recently published letter demanding an apology and reparations from Britain.

Prince William delivering a speech in Jamaica on Wednesday.

Prince William delivering a speech in Jamaica on Wednesday. ( Toby Melville - Pool/Getty Images)

She told The Associated Press that her phone started buzzing just minutes after Holness made the announcement, which comes a day after Gullota and others joined a protest held hours before the royal couple arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday as part of a weeklong tour of Central America and the Caribbean organized at the behest of the queen and that coincides with the 70th anniversary of her coronation.

"This visit has brought back to light that many Jamaicans are looking forward to Jamaica becoming a fully independent republic," she said, adding that the island has all the opportunities and potential to do so.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge stunned in an emerald green dress for the occasion.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge stunned in an emerald green dress for the occasion. (Samir Hussein - Pool/WireImage)

However, she noted that many worry about ongoing government corruption, which has eroded people’s confidence: "If you do not trust those leading the country, it will be hard for people to take a stand."

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People protest to demand an apology and slavery reparations during a visit to the former British colony by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, in Kingston, Jamaica, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

People protest to demand an apology and slavery reparations during a visit to the former British colony by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, in Kingston, Jamaica, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Collin Reid)

Britain ruled Jamaica for more than 300 years, forcing hundreds of thousands of African slaves to toil the land under brutal conditions. Jamaica gained its independence in August 1962 but remained within the British commonwealth.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.