Barbados becomes republic, honours Rihanna

Rihanna has been declared a National Hero of Barbados as the island nation became a republic.
Rihanna has been declared a National Hero of Barbados as the island nation became a republic.

Barbados has ditched Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic with its first-ever president and severing its last remaining colonial bonds with Britain.

At the strike of midnight on Tuesday local time, the new republic was born to the cheers of hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown.

A 21 gun salute fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played over a crowded Heroes Square, nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados's first president in the shadow of Barbados's parliament.

"We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance," Ms Mason said. "We must shape its future. We are each other's and our nation's keepers. We the people are Barbados."

Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that the 33-year-old would be conferred with the honour of National Hero of Barbados to cheers.

Rihanna was called up before the crowds to be congratulated by Mottley.

"May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation by your works, by your actions," Mottley told Rihanna, a reference to her 2012 chart-topping single Diamonds.

Prince Charles stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth's royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other British colonies.

"The creation of this republic offers a new beginning," he said.

"From the darkest days of our past and the apalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our history, people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude."

In a message to the new president, the 95-year-old Queen sent her congratulations to Barbadians who she said have held a special place in her heart.

"I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future," she said.

The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.

It may also be a harbinger of a broader attempt by other former colonies to cut ties to the British monarchy as it braces for the end of Elizabeth's nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.

Australian Associated Press