LONDON • Commonwealth leaders will decide on who should follow Queen Elizabeth II as head of the organisation at their summit this week, Downing Street says.
Queen Elizabeth, 91, has been the symbolic head of the group of nations since the death of her father King George VI in 1952, though the position is not hereditary.
Her eldest son, Charles, is heir to the throne in 16 of the 53 Commonwealth member states, which are chiefly territories that were part of the former British empire.
At the same time as the announcement about succession on Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said Britain supported the position going to Prince Charles.
"The UK supports the Prince of Wales as the next head of the Commonwealth. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades and has spoken passionately about the organisation's unique diversity," the spokesman told reporters. "Succession is a matter for the Commonwealth as a whole to determine."
Commonwealth leaders are gathering in London for an executive session tomorrow and will hold a retreat at Windsor Castle, west of the city, on Friday for talks behind closed doors.
Prince Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles, has been appointed as Commonwealth youth ambassador, his highest-profile public role to date and a job that will see him encouraging young people to use the network of mostly former British colonies.
In a statement, Buckingham Palace said more than 60 per cent of the Commonwealth's 2.4 billion people were under the age of 30.
Queen Elizabeth has curtailed her long-haul travel and Prince Charles represented her at the 2013 biennial summit in Colombo.
At the last Commonwealth summit in Malta in 2015, several heads of government voiced their support for 69-year-old Prince Charles taking the role in future, citing his years of service to the Commonwealth.
In her speech at the Malta summit, Queen Elizabeth said she could not "wish to have been better supported and represented in the Commonwealth than by the Prince of Wales who continues to give so much to it with great distinction".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS