Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians gathered in the streets of Phnom Penh to attend the beginning of the funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk, who died on October 15 in Beijing, where he spent the last 15 years of life. A hearse carried the embalmed body of the elderly monarch through the streets of the capital, greeted by a moved and emotional crowd. The body will eventually be transported to the crematorium, where on February 4, in the final act of the long ceremony, there will be the burning of a pyre, lit by his wife and son - and successor to the throne - King Norodom Sihamoni.
King Sihanouk died in the Chinese
capital - where he lived for some time - of a heart attack at the age of 89. This
morning, a 101-gun salute greeted the start of the procession, while since dawn
citizens crowded the roadsides with lamps and candles to light the way. The
gold casket containing the body was placed on a golden chariot also surrounded
by high-ranking officers dressed in white, the color of mourning in Asia.
Buth Nakry, a 63 year old cambodian, among many citizens mingled with the crowd told AFP it was "deeply sad" because "the king-father soon will be gone" forever. He added that it is a "great loss for us all", because the elderly monarch "was able to bring peace to the nation."
A controversial figure who marked,
for better or for worse, the history of the last century of Cambodia, King
Sihanouk is credited - thanks to the sixth and last wife Monique - with having reopened
diplomatic relations with the Holy See, in 1994. He
was born October 31, 1922 son of King Norodom Suramarit; in 1941 prince Sianouk
was crowned by the French, who were hoping to be able to dominate. But
after the war he began a campaign for the independence of his country, which
ended in victory in 1953. He
then abdicated in favor of his father, assuming the post of prime minister.
He is famous for his continuous resignations and returns to power. In the '60s and '70s the country was involved in the War fought on Vietnamese soil and then throughout Indochina. In '70, Lon Nol, one of his generals, supported by the United States, seized power and Sihanouk fled to Beijing. Here - thanks to China - he struck up an alliance with the Khmer Rouge. In '75 the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot took over Cambodia. Sihanouk returned as king, but was placed under house arrest in his palace, as the country suffered at the hands of the Communist dictatorship which killed nearly two million people. Later, Sihanouk condemned the actions of the Khmer Rouge. In '79 the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge in the period of uncertainty, Sihanouk fled to Beijing, to return to Cambodia in '93, with the advent of a democratic state, sponsored by the UN. In the last years of his stay in the country he sought to resolve the divisions and struggles between various factions - including that of his son Norodom Ranariddh - and the strong man Hun Sen, but without much success. In 2004 he abdicated in favor of his son Sihamoni and often lived in Pyongyang or Beijing.