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Parade on Thames honors Queen's reign

LONDON -- The River Thames became a royal highway yesterday, as Queen Elizabeth II led a motley but majestic flotilla of more than 1,000 vessels in a waterborne pageant to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

In a colorful salute to the island nation's maritime past, an armada of skiffs and sailboats, rowboats and paddle steamers joined a flower-festooned royal barge down a 7-mile stretch of the river.

With hundreds of thousands of rain-soaked spectators watching and cheering from the riverbanks, the pageant was the largest public event in four days of celebrations of the monarch's 60 years on the throne.

Today, the queen will join thousands of revelers at an outdoor concert beside Buckingham Palace, headlined by pop royalty including Paul McCartney and Elton John.

Yesterday was dismal and damp, with rain scuttling plans for a ceremonial fly-past, but that didn't stop Union Jack-waving spectators forming a red, white and blue wave along the pageant route.

"It would have been wonderful if it had been sunny like last Sunday but we have come prepared," said Christine Steele, 57. "We have got blankets, brollies, flags and bunting."

The queen, 86, wore a silver and white dress and matching coat, embroidered with gold, silver and ivory spots and embellished with Swarovski crystals to evoke the river, for her trip on the barge Spirit of Chartwell, decorated in regal red, gold and purple velvet.

After a peal of bells from a special belfry barge, the royal boat sailed downstream at a stately 4 knots, accompanied by tugs, pleasure craft, narrow boats, kayaks, gondolas, dragon boats, even a replica Viking longboat. Also in the flotilla were more than three dozen "Dunkirk Little Ships," private boats that rescued thousands of British soldiers from the beaches of France after the German invasion in 1940, a defeat that became a major victory for wartime morale. -- AP

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