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A Union flag is set up on the Mall near Buckingham Palace in central London on Sunday. (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images/CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)
A Union flag is set up on the Mall near Buckingham Palace in central London on Sunday. (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images/CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Royal wedding: Tyrants and pop stars, yes; former Labour prime ministers, no Add to ...

If the scene at the Westminster Abbey altar Friday is meant to portray the fairy-tale image of monarchical romance, the faces in the aisles - and those left standing on the sidewalk outside - are poised to tell a more contentious story.

Sunday's announcement of the guest list for Friday's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton caused an eruption of outrage in Britain as it emerged that the House of Windsor had managed to invite a string of dictators and tyrants, well-connected billionaires and pop stars while snubbing all former prime ministers belonging to the opposition Labour Party.

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In a display of regal indifference to current events and human rights, the Queen and her offspring announced a list that was heavy with autocrats who have recently been implicated in acts of repressive violence while crushing the democratic uprisings that have swept across Africa.

Senior figures from the governments of Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been invited, despite having been in the headlines for acts of brutality in recent weeks (though Libya was kept off the list).

The Crown Prince of Bahrain, Hamad Al-Khalifa, announced Sunday night that he would decline the invitation because his country's crackdown on democracy protests, killing at least seven people, has become a matter of international condemnation since it began in February.

He said in a statement that he feared he would "overshadow" the wedding, arguing that opponents have "clearly sought to involve my potential attendance as a political proxy for wider matters involving Bahrain."

But other despots with recent acts of violence on their hands are still invited, to the consternation of many.

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"The invitations are a massive misjudgment by the monarch," British human-rights activist Peter Tatchell said on Sunday. "They show the Queen is out of touch with the humanitarian values of modern, liberal Britain. She's putting royalty before human rights. The guest list displays a shocking insensitivity to the suffering of people who have been persecuted."

To make matters worse, it emerged that every living Conservative prime minister, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major, will be invited to attend while snubbing both Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. (Baroness Thatcher will reportedly not be attending for health reasons.)

Prince Charles's office, Clarence House, attempted to excuse this as a matter of protocol, arguing that both Tories were Knights of the Garter, a royal-appointed honour: "It is not a state occasion, so there is no reason why they would be invited," a spokesman said.

"It is a private wedding and the couple are entitled to invite whoever they want to it. Prince William is not the prince of Wales or the king, and he hasn't got that link to prime ministers in the way that the Queen does."

However, a wide range of other figures from politics, business and the arts were invited because they were admired by members of the Royal Family, making the snub look more abject. Several observers noted that a representative of St. Helena, population 4,000, and the postman and pub landlord of Bucklebury, Berkshire, the village of Ms. Middleton, have been invited despite not being required by protocol.

Indeed, even traditionally conservative observers raised their eyebrows at the stark ideological divide among wedding invitations. "While it is inevitable that these sensitive relationships have their ups and downs, Labour MPs will not be alone in thinking it odd the two former occupants of No. 10 have not been invited to the marriage of the Queen's eldest grandson," political editor of the right-wing Sunday Telegraph editorialized.

He speculated that Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown may have been snubbed because of past frictions over the funerals of Lady Diana in 1997 or the Queen Mother in 2002, both events that caused tensions between Downing Street and the palace.

Celebrities invited included pop singers Elton John and Joss Stone, soccer star David Beckham, actor Rowan Atkinson and director Guy Ritchie.

Canada will be sparsely represented. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to decline his invitation because the wedding occurs only days before the federal election. Governor-General David Johnston and his wife Sharon will be there, as will Toronto supermarket magnate Galen Weston and his wife Hillary, who will be attending as personal friends of Prince Charles.

Other Canadians attending include Autumn Phillips, the Canadian who married the Queen's grandson Peter Phillips, and David Furnish, the Canadian-born husband of Mr. John.

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WEDDING DEVELOPMENTS

* About 26,000 red tulips are about to lose their heads on the royal wedding route outside Buckingham Palace, the Royal Parks department told the Daily Telegraph. The flowers at Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens usually peak in late April, but hot weather has left them drooping. By Friday, it will be up to the wallflowers and forget-me-nots to provide the spring show.

* Bacon sandwiches will be on the menu for the early morning meal. Prince Harry, the best man at his brother's wedding, is organizing a special post-wedding breakfast on Saturday for revellers who have danced through the night, a report said.

* Once they are man and wife, Prince William and Kate Middleton may honeymoon in two locales. They are likely to combine a stay in Scotland, a beautiful spot with iffy weather, with a visit to a reliably sunny spot. Experts predict they'll start by visiting the Queen's 50,000-acre Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter search-and-rescue pilot, has only two weeks leave, so he will have to be back at the base in Wales fairly quickly. However, on a recent trip to Australia, the Prince said it was possible he and his wife would return for a honeymoon in Cairns so they could scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef.

* The 10 bells of London's Westminster Abbey will chime for more than three hours following the wedding, St. James's Palace said on the weekend. Ringers at the abbey where the couple will marry on Friday will perform a full peal of 5,000 changes, or sequences of bell chimes, with none repeating. A peal of this length is rung only on special royal or national occasions and was last performed in 2007 for the 60th anniversary of the Queen's marriage to Prince Philip, a spokesman for the abbey said.

* A British guard has been removed from his duties at the wedding after calling the bride-to-be a "stuck up cow" on his Facebook page. Scots Guardsman Cameron Reilly, 18, was axed from the event after using the social networking website to launch a foul-mouthed rant against Ms. Middleton.

"Hur [sic]and William drove past me on Friday and all a [I]got was a ... wave while she looked the opposite way," the Buckingham Palace guard said.

"Stupid stuck up cow, am [I]not good enough for them!" continued Mr. Reilly, who lists "super-strength lager" and "causing trouble" as interests.

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BY NUMBERS

The full list of confirmed guests and the seating plan for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was released on the weekend.

1,900

Guests invited to the service at Westminster Abbey.

1,000

Those sitting in the section of the abbey where views of the altar are restricted. They will have to watch on TV screens to see the moment when William and Kate exchange their vows.

650

Those invited to the lunchtime champagne and canapés reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen.

300

Those invited to the dinner at Buckingham Palace given by the Prince of Wales.

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