New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the death of Queen Elizabeth as the end of a chapter in history, as leaders from South Pacific nations mourned the death of the 96-year-old monarch.
Following Elizabeth’s death on Thursday, her eldest son Charles automatically became monarch of the United Kingdom and the head of state of 14 other realms including Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations of Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
“Young or old, there is no doubt that a chapter is closing today, and with that we share our thanks for an incredible woman who we were lucky enough to call our Queen,” Ardern said in a news conference. “She was extraordinary.”
Ardern said she was woken early to be given the news.
“I had a police officer shine a torch into my room at about 4.50 am this morning. When that torch light came into my room I knew immediately what it meant,” Ardern said.
In Australia, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Queen’s death was a loss felt deeply in Australia.
“Through the noise and turbulence of the years she embodied and exhibited a timeless decency and an enduring calm,” he said.
Condolences were also shared from across the Pacific.
“We will always treasure the joy of her visits to Fiji along with every moment that her grace, courage, and wisdom were a comfort and inspiration to our people, even a world away,” tweeted Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, which is now a republic.
Flags are being lowered across both New Zealand and Australia as a sign of respect.
Australia has suspended parliament and is not expected to return for at least two weeks, while in New Zealand politicians are expected to gather in the house next week to pay their respects.
Both countries are constitutional monarchies, with the British monarch as head of state, though the role is largely ceremonial.
The question of Australia becoming a republic is a hotly debated topic with polls over the years showing near-equal support for both the monarchists and republicans.
Australia held a referendum on becoming a republic in 1999, which was narrowly defeated.
Australian Republic Movement expressed its condolences on the Queen’s death, adding the she had backed the right of Australians to become a fully independent nation during the 1999 referendum, saying “the future of the Monarchy in Australia is an issue for the Australian people and them alone to decide.”
Asked in a radio interview if the Queen’s death takes Australia closer to being a republic, Albanese said it was not the time to talk about it.
“Today’s a day for one issue and one issue only, which is to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.”