Cambodians gather in Phnom Penh for funeral of former king Norodom Sihanouk


Cambodia’s former king, Norodom Sihanouk (C), speaks during a ceremony as Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (L) and former queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk (R) look on at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on October 30, 2011



Tens of thousands of Cambodians have gathered in Phnom Penh for the start of a lavish funeral for former king Norodom Sihanouk, who who died of a heart attack in Beijing in October, aged 89.

Agence France-Presse reported that the body of the revered late monarch was carried out of the royal palace before a procession through the Cambodian capital.

Sihanouk's coffin will be travel through Phnom Penh streets on a float shaped like a mythological bird to a custom-built crematorium, where he will be cremated Monday, Feb. 4.

Up to a million people are expected to witness the procession.

Voice of America Khmer cited officials as saying that about 1,100 members of the Southeast Asian country's security forces would be deployed and some streets in Phnom Penh closed.

The prime ministers of China and Thailand and other world leaders are expected to attend the cremation ceremonies.

VOA quoted royalist lawmaker Nhiek Bunchay as saying:

"We’ve tightened security, because we don’t want something to happen on that day."

Sihanouk, a father of 14, was crowned in 1941 and served as king for six decades, overseeing a rare period of political stability after his nation's independence from France, before civil war and the emergence of the murderous Khmer Rouge.

He was toppled by a US-backed coup in 1970 and exiled to China.

According to the South China Morning Post, he returned to support the Khmer Rouge but was put under house arrest by the communist regime. 

Older Cambodians remember relative peace during the 1950s and '60s, under his reign.

"I am full of sadness that the king-father will soon disappear," 63-year-old Buth Nakry said on Thursday 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."

He regained the throne in 1993, but abdicated in 2004 due to illness, leaving the throne to his son.

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