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Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 15:05 GMT


Ghana welcomes Queen

The Queen inspects a military guard of honour

The Queen and Prince Philip have arrived in Ghana, a country which removed the monarch as head of state more than 40 years ago.

As the Queen descended from her chartered plane, traditional dancers and drummers sang her praises in the Ga language, with the chorus: "It has come to pass."

A crowd of some 5,000 cheered and waved flags as President Jerry Rawlings met the royal couple on the runway, wearing a robe bearing likenesses of the Queen and himself.

[ image: President Jerry Rawlings: Ex-junta leader]
President Jerry Rawlings: Ex-junta leader
A chieftain dressed in white then performed a libation ceremony, pouring gin on the tarmac to bring good luck.

The Queen inspected a military guard of honour and was given a 21-gun salute.

The royal couple will find a very different nation to the optimistic one they last visited in 1961, four years after Ghana gained independence.

The BBC's Nicholas Witchell: "At every event the Queen is likely to be greeted with enthusiasm"
Coups, insurrection and years of military rule have taken a heavy toll, while a gold mining crisis has forced the government to seek foreign help to salvage its economy.

But Ghana, which fought a series of colonial wars against the British more than a century ago, has in independence retained a reverence for blue blood - firstly its own incoming Ashanti king Nana Kwaku Dua, but also Britain's nobles.

Excitement over the royal tour has filled newspapers, which have reported on the bizarre preparations for the visit.

According to the country's Business Watch magazine, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly has rid the streets to be visited by the British royals of hawkers, news-vendors and porters, and "roaming lunatics are being checked or chained".

[ image:  ]
Democracy and a measure of economic stability have returned to Ghana under President Jerry Rawlings - an ex-junta leader who has won two elections since 1992.

In Accra, the Queen will hold talks at the presidential Osu Castle with President Rawlings and give a speech in parliament where she is likely to praise Ghana for its achievements.

The royal couple's schedule also includes visits with Ashanti tribal chiefs, but they are not expected to see the incoming king, Nana Kwaku Dua, who is still in an official period of mourning for his predecessor who died on 25 February.

Ghana hopes the visit will mean more aid from Britain, its biggest trading partner with substantial mining, manufacturing interests in the West African country.

Gold is Ghana's largest source of foreign exchange, providing some $500-600m a year.

But stagnant prices have forced some of the country's smaller mines to close down in the past six months, leading to job losses in the sector.

"The Queen's visit is undoubtedly a firm stamp on our excellent relations with the United Kingdom. Its significance cannot and should not be lost," Ghana's Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho said.

The Queen is travelling with a 45-member royal delegation, who will accompany her to South Africa on Tuesday for a Commonwealth heads of state conference and then later to neighbouring Mozambique for a 15-hour visit.

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