Colombian president coming to NI during UK state visit

The Queen with Juan Manuel Santos after his arrival in London
The Queen with Juan Manuel Santos after his arrival in London

The president of Colombia has been welcomed to the UK by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh with a formal ceremony full of pomp and pageantry.

Juan Manuel Santos, and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez de Santos, began their three-day state visit in the heart of London.

The trip comes at a pivotal moment in the history of the South American nation, which is poised to turn its back on decades of civil war following a peace deal that earned the foreign head of state the Nobel peace prize.

President Santos was hailed for his political courage for helping to broker the deal with left-wing Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

Although the accord was narrowly rejected by Colombians in a vote, the leader has extended a ceasefire with the country’s largest rebel movement to allow more time for efforts to save the peace deal.

Northern Ireland has many parallels with Colombia and Mr Santos will travel to Belfast tomorrow to meet community leaders and discuss the challenges of community reconciliation post-conflict.

The state visit, the first since Theresa May became prime minister, will also feature Downing Street talks.

Mr and Mrs Santos arrived at Horse Guards Parade – Henry VIII’s former jousting yard – by car after being greeted at their central London hotel by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who visited Colombia in 2014.

Under grey skies, the Queen and Philip stood waiting to welcome the visitors with Mrs May, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, military top brass and other leading figures in attendance

On the parade ground the Guard of Honour, the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, formed in two lines with the Corps of Drums of the Battalion and the Band of the Regiment, under the command of Major Charles Starkey.

The two couples greeted each other warmly before standing in silence as the Colombian national anthem was played.

Mr Santos and his wife will stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and will be entertained at a lavish state banquet there on Tuesday night.

It is the first time a state visit to the UK has been carried out by a Colombian president but the South American leader and his wife have met the Queen before – during a private audience in 2011.