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UK leader pays tributes to Queen Elizabeth II

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LONDON (AP) - Britain should pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II's "unerring grace, dignity and decency" as she marks 60 years on the throne, Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday in a rare tribute at Parliament.

Cameron, the 12th British leader to serve during the queen's reign, made a glowing endorsement of the monarch's coronation in 1952.

"Around the world dictatorships have died and democracies have been born, and across the old British empire a vibrant Commonwealth of nations has expanded and flourished," Cameron told legislators. "Throughout this extraordinary change, the longest monarch in our history has remained resolutely unchanged in her commitment and studious in her duties."

The Diamond Jubilee weekend will be held June 2-5, with the main highlight likely to be a huge pageant on the River Thames featuring a 1,000-strong flotilla. A gala concert is also planned. Festivities are also taking place across Britain, in the country's 14 overseas dependencies and in 15 far flung nations where the queen is also head of state. Already, Prince Harry _ the queen's grandson _ has swigged rum and mingled with beauty queens to launch events in the Caribbean.

Cameron told the House of Commons that the queen had offered a stability which is "essential for our national life."

"The nation holds her in its heart, not just as the figurehead of an institution, but as an individual who has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency," he said.

In deciding to televise her annual Christmas message from 1957, open up her palaces to visitors and host summer garden parties, the queen had "ended a thousand year distance that existed between British monarchs and their people," Cameron said.

Graham Smith, spokesman for Republic, which campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said some Britons were already weary of the platitudes.

"We believe it is vital in a democratic society to question and challenge the record of our head of state, not simply go along with endless gushing tributes," he said.

Smith, whose organization plans protests during Diamond Jubilee festivities, said the queen's reign had been marked by "wasted opportunities, resistance to real reform and continuation of our deeply undemocratic constitution."

The queen and her husband Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, will tour Britain from now to July.

Cameron said the monarch had traveled more widely than any head of state in history, meeting at least 4 million people on her visits. "She has been heard to say," he quipped. "I have to be seen to be believed."

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