BRIDGETOWN: Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first-ever president and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.

At the stroke of midnight, the new republic was born to cheers of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown. A 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played over a crowded Heroes Square.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have the Queen as their sovereign.

“We the people must give Republic Barbados its spirit and its substance,” Sandra Mason, the island’s first president, said.

“We must shape its future. We are each other’s and our nation’s keepers. We the people are Barbados.”

Barbados casts the remo­val of Elizabeth II, who is still queen of 15 other realms including the United King­dom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break with the demons of its colonial history.

“The creation of this republic offers a new beginning,” said Prince Charles. “From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our history, people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

In a message to the new president, the 95-year-old queen sent her congratulations to Barbadians who she said have held a special place in her heart.

“I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future,” she said.

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Barbadian singer Rihanna was declared a national hero by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of Barbados’ republican movement.

The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.