Huge crowds mourn Cambodia's former king

2013-02-01 18:04
A Cambodian woman cries during a funeral procession for the late former King Norodom Sihanouk in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. (Tang Chhin Sothy, AFP)

A Cambodian woman cries during a funeral procession for the late former King Norodom Sihanouk in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. (Tang Chhin Sothy, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Phnom Penh - A sea of mourners filled the streets of the Cambodian capital on Friday for a lavish funeral for revered former king Norodom Sihanouk, who towered over six tumultuous decades in his nation's history.

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, dressed in black and white, began massing before dawn to pay their respects to the mercurial monarch, who died of a heart attack in Beijing in October, aged 89.

The legions of mourners, many weeping and holding their hands together in a mark of respect, waited by the roadside as the procession inched through the city's avenues, flanked by courtiers in white traditional costume.

A father of 14 children over six marriages, Sihanouk abdicated in 2004 after steering Cambodia through six decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, his own exile and finally peace.

Many elderly Cambodians credit him with overseeing a rare period of political stability in the 1950s and 1960s, following independence, until the Khmer Rouge emerged in the 1970s.

Up to two million people died under their reign of terror, including five of Sihanouk's own children. But even though the ever-changeable monarch had allied himself with the Maoist movement, he never lost his people's veneration.

101-gun salute

"He did great things for the country. I love him very much. I'm really sad that we've lost him," 70-year-old Suon Toch said as he waited near the palace with his family, holding a portrait of the late royal.

Sihanouk's widow Monique, dabbing her teary eyes, walked behind the golden casket earlier as it was brought out of the royal palace in Phnom Penh, accompanied by their son, King Norodom Sihamoni.

A 101-gun salute marked the start of the elaborate procession to honour the ex-king, who was placed on the throne by the French at the age of just 18 but swiftly developed into a canny political survivor.

With two monks riding a float shaped as a mythological bird at the head of the procession, the body of the late monarch was paraded through the capital, before being taken to a specially built crematorium in a city park.

Giant screens were erected for people to watch the ceremony on the outskirts of the city.

Sihanouk - a self-confessed "naughty boy" who loved to direct films, write poetry and compose songs - remained hugely popular among Cambodians. But his record is not without controversy.

Diminishing influence

After being ousted by the US-backed General Lon Nol in 1970, he aligned himself with the Khmer Rouge, only to be placed under house arrest as the communist regime terrorised the nation.

Before the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Sihanouk took exile in China. He regained his throne in 1993, although his influence was greatly diminished.

Observers say his passing is likely to further diminish the influence of the monarchy in a country that is now at peace but is dominated by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms.

In stark contrast to his father, the current King Sihamoni has taken a quieter role in Cambodian life since ascending to the throne in 2004, preferring to carry out his ceremonial duties rather than engage in the political jousting that characterised Sihanouk's long reign.

"Sihamoni is childless. The royalist party is in shreds," said historian and Cambodia expert David Chandler.

Cremation on Monday

Ordinary people "loved Sihanouk, to an extent, and I think elderly people like the idea of there being a king, but Hun Sen and the younger generations couldn't care less", he said.

Cambodian television showed images of 61-year-old Hun Sen - who has ruled since 1985 and vowed to stay in power until he is 90 years old - using his smartphone while sitting on one of the funeral floats.

For the past three months Sihanouk's body - embalmed with the help of Chinese experts - has been lying in state in the royal palace, where foreign leaders and members of the public have paid their respects.

It will be kept at the cremation site until Monday when his wife and King Sihamoni are expected to light the pyre.

After the cremation Sihanouk's remains will be placed in a gold-coloured urn inside the royal palace, in line with his wishes.

- SAPA
Read more on:    cambodia
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!

Find out who and what South Africans were most curious about in 2014!

 
 

I love summer.24

This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem
The world's least visited destination is breathtaking!
LOL treadmill fail!
Google’s top searches of 2014

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Any chance to explore the distant shores of things yet to be found will fascinate you. The challenge is dealing with the issues...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.