2009 a difficult year - queen
London - Britain's Queen Elizabeth paid tribute to the armed forces and referred to the recession in her annual Christmas Day message on Friday, describing 2009 as a "difficult year".
"Each year that passes seems to have its own character. Some leave us with a feeling of satisfaction, others are best forgotten. 2009 was a difficult year for many, in particular those facing the continuing effects of the economic downturn," she said, as she opened her message.
The queen, who is the titular head of the military, said she was saddened by the casualties suffered in Afghanistan, but added: "We can be proud of the positive contribution that our servicemen and women are making, in conjunction with our allies."
The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan this year reached 100 in early December, with six more deaths in recent days, including two by "friendly fire", taking the total to 106. British troops are deployed in more than 80 countries, including around 10 000 in Afghanistan.
In her 57th address, pre-recorded at Buckingham Palace, the queen also spoke extensively of the Commonwealth group of countries, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year.
"It is 60 years since the Commonwealth was created and today, with more than a billion of its members under the age of 25, the organisation remains a strong and practical force for good," said the monarch, who is also head of the organisation of mostly British ex-colonies.
"In many aspects of our lives, whether in sport, the environment, business or culture, the Commonwealth connection remains vivid and enriching. It is, in lots of ways, the face of the future."
The queen's Christmas message, which is broadcast on television, radio and the internet, is a traditional part of Christmas Day celebrations for many Britons.
Unlike her speech at the opening of Parliament, the monarch uses the message to express her own views rather than those of the government.