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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 16:35 GMT
Queen's appeal to Commonwealth young
Indian schoolchildren
Half of the commonwealth's population is under 25
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The Queen has stressed the importance of the young in the future of the Commonwealth, association of more than 50 countries, almost all of them former British colonies.

In a message to mark Commonwealth Day, she noted that more than half of the organisation's 1.7 billion people were under 25 years old.

The Queen
The Queen's message marked Commonwealth Day
Special events are being held in Britain and many other countries, including Australia, India, Guyana, Jamaica, Mozambique and Tuvalu, to mark the occasion.

The formalities of Commonwealth Day continue year after year: the royal message, a 'multi-faith observance' - as it's now called - at Westminster Abbey in London, and cultural groups demonstrating the organisation's diversity.

But also coming round year after year are the worries about whether the loosely-knit association is still relevant to the modern world - doubts which have existed almost since the Commonwealth was born in 1949 out of the dissolving British Empire.

'A new generation'

This year the theme is "A New Generation". The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon said young people were the association's life-blood.

Don McKinnon
Don McKinnon: Young people are the Commonwealth's life blood
The Queen said making the Commonwealth matter to them was the task now.

Its future would, she said, depend on success in engaging with the new generation, capturing their imagination, firing their vision and enlisting their energy and commitment.

There are few signs though, that the Commonwealth has that kind of image, and the Queen admitted that many of its young people had to cope with a life where even the basics of human existence were not guaranteed.

But she also referred to the opportunities of instant communication and the transfer of knowledge; and some of the most valuable things the Commonwealth does are through its informal networks of people and professions across the world.

Wider uncertainties

On the political level, the Commonwealth has failed so far to formulate any policy on Zimbabwe in response to President Mugabe's increasing pressure on the opposition, the judiciary and the media.

And the wider uncertainties persist. Ten Commonwealth leaders have been given the job of reviewing the organisation's future and reporting to the summit in Australia later this year.

An internet debate organised between British and South African university students has a similar introverted theme: whether the Commonwealth matters.

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03 Apr 00 | World
Guide to the Commonwealth
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