Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Cambodia is preparing to pay homage to the remains of King Sihanouk Norodorm, who died last October 15 in Beijing, China, where he spent the last years of life. The arrival of the body is scheduled for the late afternoon and will mark, officially, the start of the expected week of national mourning in the country. At least 100 thousand people lined the streets for the passage of the funeral cortege, on its journey from the airport to the the Royal Palace in the capital. The late King was still very popular in the countryside, among the peasants and simple people; by contrast, he had lost his charm and prestige in Phnom Penh and in large cities, home to intellectuals, the leadership of the government and the wealthy section of the population.
Upon hearing the news of the death of the old king, the people in Cambodia started to wear black ribbons in mourning and placed flags at half mast. He died in a hospital in the Chinese capital of a heart attack at the age of 89. In these hours, officials and diplomatic representatives of the United States, China, North Korea and Japan - among others - have sent messages of condolence.
The Cambodian government has ordered local radio and TV not to broadcast programs or transmissions "not consistent" with the event that has struck the country, the measure will be in force throughout the period of mourning. The body of King Sihanouk will remain in state at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh for three months, to allow the whole population - especially in the countryside - to arrive in the capital for a final farewell to the old monarch. He will then be cremated, at the end of a "processed" function, as mentioned by sources close to the executive.
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, confirming the steps for the religious freedom of the Church that had started a few years earlier. He abdicated in 2004, but his choice had a major impact on a population - as sources told AsiaNews at the time - marked by "most serious and urgent problems" and which "does not show particular interest or attachment to the monarchy."