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(LONDON) — Charles III has now become King of England, but his constitutional rule extends far beyond the small historic island.

King Charles is now also the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries, the majority of which are former colonies of the British Empire. It is home to approximately 2.5 billion people and includes advanced economies and developing countries.

Fourteen of the Commonwealth nations are kingdoms in which Charles is head of state. These countries include the United Kingdom, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and -Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Of the Commonwealth’s 41 other member states, 36 are republics, while the other five – Brunei Darussalam, Lesotho, Malaysia, Eswatini, formerly Swaziland and Tonga – have their own monarchs.

Despite its ties to the British Empire, any country can join the modern Commonwealth, and other countries with no connection to the colonial past have recently been admitted, such as Rhonda and Mozambique. The last two countries to join the Commonwealth were Gabon and Togo in 2022.

At its height in 1922, a quarter of the world was ruled by Britain. During the last century, these countries gained independence. Yet they have retained close ties to Britain through an organization called the British Commonwealth, which was founded in 1949 with King George VI, the father of Elizabeth II, at the helm.

Elizabeth then expanded the organization to today’s Commonwealth of Nations. It spans every continent except Antarctica and includes former dominions such as Australia and Canada; long-established colonies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and St. Kitts; African countries like Nigeria and Zambia; and countries like Singapore and India in Asia.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Liz Truss, whom the Queen had invited to form a government on her behalf just two days before her death, acknowledged the late sovereign’s efforts to develop and maintain the Commonwealth throughout her reign.

Since Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, she has grown the Commonwealth from a small group of seven countries to a “family of 56 nations spanning every continent of the world”, Truss said.

“We are now a modern, prosperous and vibrant nation,” Truss said.

The main advantages of the Commonwealth are shared values, strong cultural and economic ties, similarities in legal systems, widespread use of English, sports through the Commonwealth Games, sharing of information on issues scientific and medical information and a wealth of personal information and institutional relationships, officials said. These values ​​and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is based in London and is a central intergovernmental organization responsible for managing the work of the Commonwealth.

The Queen “loved the Commonwealth, and they loved her”, said the Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary General, told the BBC on Saturday.

Succession at the head of the Commonwealth from Elizabeth II to Charles III was neither automatic nor hereditary. In 2018, the Commonwealth voted for Charles to be its next leader.

In March, Prince William and his wife, Catherine, now Prince and Princess of Wales, toured the Commonwealth Caribbean countries ahead of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

During the week-long visit to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the couple endured protests surrounding the UK’s history of colonial rule and renewed rhetoric about the possibility of a transition to independent republics.

Barbados was the last Commonwealth country to become a republic when it deposed the Queen as head of state earlier this year and swore in a president. Barbados is however still a member of the Commonwealth.

William later said he did not expect to inherit the post of Head of the Commonwealth.

“Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead their family in the future is not what I think,” William wrote in a statement posted on the couple’s official Twitter account after the tour ended. “What matters to us is the potential of the Commonwealth family to create a better future for the people who make it up, and our commitment to serve and support as best we can.”

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