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Cambodia's King to Step Down - 2004-10-07


Cambodia's ailing King Norodom Sihanouk has issued a statement of abdication following nearly a year of self-imposed exile. Citing previous health concerns and a "new and serious ailment," the long-ruling king asked Cambodia to start looking for a new monarch.

The 81-year-old king, who is currently in China, had his son read the letter of abdication to Cambodia's national assembly Thursday morning.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who serves as president of the assembly, said he hoped his father might reconsider his decision.

Political crises in Cambodia over the past year had largely stripped the King of his political influence.

He sought refuge in North Korea and China, where he received extensive medical treatment for his failing health. His letter spoke of a "new and serious" stomach ailment, but did not provide any details.

In his absence, Cambodia recently formed a new coalition government and its legislature reconvened following a year-long political stalemate that the king was unable to resolve.

Milton Osborne, a Cambodia expert at Australia's National University in Canberra, says the king may fear his country has successfully moved on without him.

"It's quite clear that he resents deeply the extent to which he has no place of any real significance in contemporary Cambodian politics," he said.

The mercurial and flamboyant king first took the throne in 1941, but abdicated in favor of his father in 1955 and became prime minister. He served on an off as president, prime minister and head of state during his country's stormy history, until 1993, when he was reinstated as king. He has threatened to step down many times, including several times this year, but this is the first time since 1993 that a formal statement has been issued.

The abdication is still not official and Sihanouk remains king, but a scheduled return to Cambodia on Thursday was postponed following the announcement.

Mr. Osborne says time appears to have caught up to the popular ruler, influencing his decision to step down.

"I think he is very much aware of his own mortality, his health is poor, one has to take that into account as he's not really wanting to hold the responsibilities," he said.

King Sihanouk's interests went beyond responsibilities of state. He is well known for producing his own movies and musical compositions, he has been a vocal supporter of gay rights, and he has his own Internet web site, which records more than 1,000 hits a day.

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