10/07/2004, 00.00
CAMBODIA
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Cambodia's king announces retirement, asks country to find a successor

Phnom Pehn (AsiaNews/Ap) – Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk is abdicating because of poor health and has asked the country to begin a search for a successor, the head of the National Assembly said Thursday.

The king, 81, made the announcement in a letter from Beijing. The note was read to the National Assembly early Thursday by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is also

head of the assembly. The news "was shocking and very regretful," the prince said.

Cambodia's monarch is not selected according to heredity, but the candidate must have a royal bloodline. Ranariddh has been considered a candidate for the throne in the past, but has said he is not interested in filling that role.

Sihanouk has been an influential figure in Cambodian politics for more than half a century, leading the country to independence from French colonialism in the 1950s. He left Cambodia after trying and failing to end the feuding among the country's political parties that followed inconclusive elections in July last year. In frustration over the squabbling, he threatened several times to abdicate. The king statement asked the country to form a nine-member throne council _ as set in Cambodian law _ to consider the next monarch. The council would include leaders such as Prime Minister Hun Sen.

With his statement, Sihanouk included a Sept. 4 letter jointly signed by Hun Sen and Ranariddh, who are partners in the current government, proposing another prince, Norodom Sihamoni, "to be the future king." Sihamoni, 51, is Sihanouk's son with Queen Monineath.

In a letter read on state television late Wednesday, the king asked that he be allowed to "retire" because of his fragile health, saying that doctors have detected a "new and serious ailment" in his stomach. The letter did not elaborate, but the old King is seriously ill. "I ask all compatriots to please allow me to retire,"the king's letter said, according to the television report.

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