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The Queen has started the countdown to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, launching the baton relay at Buckingham Palace.

She handed the baton to two-time Olympic champion cyclist Anna Meares on Monday as it started its journey to host country Australia.

The relay will span 388 days, 71 countries and more than 200,000 miles before reaching the Gold Coast.

Later the Queen and other Royals will mark Commonwealth Day with a service at Westminster Abbey.

Australian Paralympian Kurt Fearnley brought the baton to the palace before it was given to the Queen.

After placing a message inside, the monarch then handed it on to his fellow countrywoman Meares.

She was joined by her former rival and now friend, Team GB champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton, to start the first leg of the relay.

School children from all of the countries represented at the games were also at the event and there was a performance from Australian singer Cody Simpson.

The Commonwealth Day service at the abbey will be attended by the monarch, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex.

This year’s theme is “a peace-building Commonwealth”.

In a message to the 2.4 billion Commonwealth citizens, printed in the order of service, the Queen wrote: “The cornerstones on which peace is founded are, quite simply, respect and understanding for one another.

“Working together, we build peace by defending the dignity of every individual and community.

“As members of the Commonwealth family, we can find much to be thankful for in the inheritances we have received from those who came before us. Through consensus and co-operation, great things have been achieved.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland also gave her own Commonwealth Day message, read at flag ceremonies around the country.

She said: “By linking governments and institutions – both public and private – and bringing together in a spirit of goodwill people of all ages and from all walks of life, Commonwealth gatherings and networks lay foundations of respect and understanding that enable lasting peace to be built.”

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