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Queen Elizabeth Visits Sydney

March 22, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The seats were empty and steady drizzle fell Tuesday when Queen Elizabeth II visited the 110,000-capacity stadium that will be the site of the opening ceremony for the 2000 Olympic Games.

In September, the arena will be packed with people. But the queen won’t be on hand, even though she is Australia’s head of state.

In a break with tradition, Australia bypassed its head of state as the dignitary who would officially open the Games. And the government leader, Prime Minister John Howard, withdrew after being accused of hypocrisy because he is a monarchist. Instead, the honor will go to the queen’s representative in Australia _ Gov.-Gen. Sir William Deane.

The British monarch’s 13th visit to Australia is the first since the country’s citizens voted in November to retain her as the head of state. Polls show most Australians want a homegrown head of state, but can’t agree on how to pick one.

Royal aides said the queen was unfazed at not being invited to the Games, and has not mentioned the controversy publicly since arriving.

In her only major speech Monday, she recognized Australia’s shift away from the monarchy, and said the Olympics would ``present a great challenge and opportunity _ to show modern Australia to the world.″

Dressed in a red and white dress and white hat, the queen visited the Games’ basketball and swimming venues Tuesday, as well as the athletes’ village and the stadium.

She met current and former Australian Olympic athletes, including retired gold medal swimmer Dawn Fraser, who said she would have liked the queen to open the Games.

``It would have meant a lot to the athletes,″ said Fraser. ``I think Australia should grow up and be an independent country. But I’m a big fan of (the queen), and I will always admire the royal family.″

Security was stepped up for the queen’s public appearances, which included a visit to the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

On Wednesday, the queen visited Australia’s Outback, focusing her two-hour visit to the remote town of Bourke on the Aboriginal population.

At an Aboriginal radio station which broadcasts in indigenous languages she was welcomed by the Ngemba Muranari Aboriginal dance troupe.

Radio station manager Greg McKellar said the queen showed a key interest in Aboriginal culture during her 15 minute visit.

Attending separate functions in Wagga Wagga, 250 miles southwest of Sydney, the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, on Tuesday caused a stir at a cheesemaking facility when he declined to put on a laboratory coat and hair net because, aides said, he was only going to be inside for four minutes.

Cheesemaker Barry Lillywhite said the $1,000 batch under production during the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit would have to be tested for contamination.

``We’ll probably end up throwing out today’s product,″ Lillywhite said, adding that a police sniffer dog and television crew also had been through the facility. ``You can’t take the risk of contamination.″

Meanwhile, a court on Tuesday adjourned proceedings against a man arrested Monday with an 8-inch kitchen knife strapped to his leg outside a venue where the queen was to have lunch. The man was sent into psychiatric care indefinitely.

Gregory Philip Pailthorpe, 39, faced charges of illegal possession of a knife in public and possession of marijuana. Lawyer Simon Bleasel said Pailthorpe believed himself a member of the Special Air Service assigned to protect the queen.

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On the Net:

British Royal Family’s web site: http://www.royal.gov.uk/

Australian government’s web site: http://www.fed.gov.au/

Australian Republican Movement’s web site: http://www.republic.org.au/arm/arm.html

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