One million prepare to mourn Cambodia's former king
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The lavish funeral of Cambodia's revered former king Norodom Sihanouk will begin on Friday, February 1, with officials expecting more than a million mourners to throng Phnom Penh's streets.
The body of the late monarch, who died of a heart attack in Beijing in October, aged 89, will be paraded through the city atop a golden float shaped like a mythological bird, from the Royal Palace to an ornate, custom-built crematorium in a city park.
Authorities have erected towering portraits of Sihanouk, repaired crumbling kerbs along the procession route and established road blocks around the palace and park, where the cremation will be held on Monday, away from public view.
Friday's ceremony is due to begin at 0000 GMT and will include a 101-gun salute and the procession, giving crowds the chance to bid a final farewell to their colourful king, who was placed on the throne by the French at the age of just 18 but developed into a canny political survivor.
A father of 14 children over 6 marriages, Sihanouk abdicated in 2004 after steering Cambodia through 6 decades, which were 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 emergence of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
"I am full of sadness that the king-father will soon disappear," 63-year-old Buth Nakry told AFP as she prayed outside the Royal Palace on Thursday with a black ribbon pinned to her white blouse.
"It is a great loss for all of us. He brought peace to the country."
Alliance with Khmer Rouge
But Sihanouk's record is not without reproach.
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 terrorized the nation, killing up to two million people, including 5 of his own children.
Before the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Sihanouk took exile in China, regaining his throne in 1993, although his influence was greatly diminished.
Foreign dignitaries including French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Japan's Prince Akishino and a host of Asian leaders or high-ranking officials are due to attend the cremation.
After the ceremony Sihanouk's remains will be put in a gold-coloured urn that will be placed in a stupa inside the Royal Palace, in line with his wishes. - Rappler.com