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Bangkok Post: Millions bid farewell as Cambodian monarch makes final journey

King Norodom Sihanouk

Bangkok Post reports that Half of the country's population is expected to make the pilgrimage to Phnom Penh to pay their respects to King Father Norodom Sihanouk, demonstrating their reverence for him as well as their unease about what his absence will mean for the country's future.For wee ks, Cambodians have filed into the capital, ending a pilgrimage which for most is a once in a lifetime event. The streets along the riverside are jammed with traffic while in the parks outside the Royal Palace children dressed in white with black ribbons play and pray with their parents.

From a distance the palace gates _ adorned by portraits of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk _ appear like an entrance to a castle in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The palace is tastefully lit against the night sky, its spire pointing at the moon above and shrouded with smoke from the millions of incense sticks burning below.

Outside the gates women, young and old, weep. Men tend to be a little more reserved. Expectations are that half of the country's 14.3 million people will travel from all corners to pay their final respects by the time of the cremation in February.

Commemorations, the pomp and pageantry surrounding Sihanouk's funeral are likely to outdo previous efforts. Numbers will also be bolstered by this year's Water Festival, normally held at the end of November when up to two million people descend on the capital for the annual boat races. The festival itself has been cancelled but the holidays remain, offering villagers from the most isolated parts of the country a chance to pay their respects to the late king.

The last royal funeral was for Sihanouk's mother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak, who died in 1975 in Beijing where her son had lived in exile for five years following the Lon Nol coup. Her ashes were returned to Cambodia with Sihanouk with a dowdy Khmer Rouge escort.

The funeral for his father King Norodom Suramarit in 1960 was a much grander affair. His death was accompanied by a salute from 66 cannons followed by three days of official mourning.

The body was then transferred to the Preah Moha Montir Room, traditionally the resting place for deceased Khmer monarchs, for five months while local and international dignitaries, which included the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, paid their respects before a lengthy funeral procession and lastly the cremation in the park outside the National Museum.

Sihanouk's final journey will follow a similar path. After a week of mourning his embalmed body went on display. Dates for the final procession and cremation have not been announced, although Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the cremation would take place in February.

You can read the complete story at The Bangkok Post. 


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