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QUEBEC CITY — Prince William and Kate thrilled hundreds of adoring fans with an unscheduled walkabout Sunday in a city that was the site of the key British victory in the conquest of the French — a historical event not forgotten by French-speaking separatists protesting nearby.
The newlyweds were on the fourth day of a nine-day trip to Canada, part of their first official overseas trip since their April 29 wedding.
The visit hit a nerve among French-speaking separatists. Prince William and Kate had a private lunch at the Citadelle, a fortified residence where the British flag was raised at the end of the pivotal 1759 Battle of Quebec, when British forces defeated the French to seal the conquest of New France.
The royal couple encountered small but vocal protests for the second straight day during their visit to predominantly French-speaking Quebec. The jeers contrasted with the start of their Canadian trip in the largely English-speaking capital, Ottawa, where they were cheered by tens of thousands of people on Friday’s Canada Day holiday.
Quebec separatists are angry that Canada still has ties to the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is still the country’s head of state.
Police were out in force in downtown Quebec City. About 200 protesters, some wearing black and waving flags, demonstrated about two blocks from City Hall, where Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, attended a ceremony to honor and inspect the Royal 22e Regiment, the most famous French-speaking unit in the Canadian military.
A larger crowd of several hundred supporters, chanting “Will and Kate” were allowed closer to City Hall and greeted the royal motorcade with loud cheers when it arrived.
After a military band played the first six bars of “God Save the Queen,” Prince William made brief remarks entirely in French.
“You, the Quebecois et Quebecoise, have such vitality and a remarkable pride. We are simply delighted to be here,” he said. “Thank you for your patience with my accent, and I hope that we will have the chance to get to know each other over the years to come. Until the next time. See you soon.”
The crowd laughed when he mentioned his accent and then started cheering. Undeterred by the nearby protesters, Prince William and Kate further charmed the Quebeckers with an unexpected walkabout. The royal couple went to the barricade, chatting and shaking hands with enthusiastic supporters in the square around City Hall before leaving by motorcade.
Alexandra Powell, a 20-year-old French-Canadian, said the royal couple greeted her with “Bonjour” before she shook Kate’s hand.
“I think it’s a childhood dream to be a princess and meet the monarchy,” said Powell. “I’m still shaking a little bit.”
Police set up barriers to keep the protesters away from City Hall, but the demonstrators brought a pickup truck with audio equipment and speakers to amplify their chants. They carried signs reading “Pay your own way” and “The monarchy, it’s over.”
The protesters chanted “RRQ,” the initials of the anti-monarchist, separatist group, Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, or Quebecker Resistance Network, which organized the protests in Montreal and Quebec City.
“We do not recognize the authority, the legitimacy of the Crown, of the monarchy here in Quebec and it’s not a national symbol for us,” said Maxime Laporte of the RRQ.
“It’s rather a symbol of imperialism, of war crimes against humanity, against our people.”
The group claimed responsibility for a banner carrying the slogan “Vive le Quebec libre” that flew from an airplane over Quebec City for an hour.
“I came today because I think it’s important to show that we don’t agree that our money still pays for an old symbol,” said Stephanie Rainville, 22. “I think it’s to show the generations coming that the fight is not over.”
The newlyweds arrived in Quebec City Sunday morning on a Canadian navy frigate after an overnight trip from Montreal down the picturesque St. Lawrence Seaway.
Prince William and Kate earlier sang hymns as they took part in a bilingual interfaith prayer service on the deck of the HMCS Montreal after it docked in Quebec City. They then headed ashore for a meeting with residents of La Maison Dauphine, a center that helps homeless youths.
In a nod to Quebeckers, Kate wore a dark blue lace Jacquenta dress by the designer Erdem. It was the second time during the trip that she wore a dress from the collection of the Montreal-born, London-based Erdem Moralioglu. She later wore a skin ‘Vanessa’ sleeveless crepe dress by Joseph at a community event in Levis, Quebec, that was attended by several hundred supporters. The couple did a longer walkabout.
Vocal yet vastly outnumbered protesters failed to cause any disruption to the royal couple’s events in Montreal on Saturday, other than aggravating some of the pair’s supporters.
About 35 protesters, including members of the Quebecker Resistance Network, stood outside Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre in Montreal. They were outnumbered about 10 to one by William and Kate supporters gathered outside the children’s hospital where the newlyweds visited cancer patients and the hospital’s neonatal care facility.
The demonstrations were a rare moment of criticism aimed at the young royals, who have for the most part been welcomed with open arms by Canadians eager to see the glamorous newlyweds.
After leaving the hospital, the royal couple headed to the Institut de Tourisme et D’Hotellerie du Quebec, where they were met again by a handful of protesters. Once inside, Kate and William donned aprons and took part in a cooking workshop at the facility, which is a government agency that conducts training and research in the hotel, tourism and food service industries.
A 2009 visit by Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, to Montreal was disrupted by more than 200 separatist protesters. The protesters sat in the street, blocking the prince’s way into a ceremony planned at an armory, and threw eggs at the soldiers who were accompanying him and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. The couple were forced to enter the building through a back door and missed an elaborate welcoming ceremony that had been planned.
In 1990, Canada Day celebrations were disrupted briefly by protesters from Quebec who booed and turned their back on Queen Elizabeth.
New Canadian citizens still pledge allegiance to the queen during their swearing-in ceremony.
Support for the separatists among Quebeckers has been on the decline in recent years as the 80-percent French-speaking province has enjoyed plenty of autonomy even without quitting Canada.
“As far as I’m concerned they’re welcome here anytime. These young people need a chance. If their ancestors messed up, they need a chance to be forgiven,” said John Harbour, 58, a French-Canadian master mariner, who was among dozens of onlookers hoping for a glimpse of the royal couple at the Quebec City waterfront.
The royal couple were boarding a flight later Sunday to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. They leave Canada for a three-day trip to California on July 8.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, contributed to this story.