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October 16, 2012

Cambodians Mourn Revered ex-King Sihanouk

by VOA News

Cambodians entered a second day of mourning Tuesday for their revered former king Norodom Sihanouk, as preparations were made to return his body from China.

Tearful mourners placed a small wreath outside the royal palace in the Cambodian capital and offered prayers for the man they called "King-Father."

Thirty-two-year-old monk Try Piseth said Kmer the former king's death is a major blow. “What he did was purely for the nation and religion, and I am so deeply sorry to lose him.  I am so speechless and cannot do much but to wish him rest in peace,” said Piseth.

Phnom Penh resident Chhun Chenda said all she can do now is mourn as she waits for the kings body to come back. “I love my king. I want him to continue to reign," said Chenda. "I want him to stay in our country forever.”

​​Norodom Sihanouk died of a heart attack in Beijing Monday at age 89 following a long battle with cancer. His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, and Prime Minister Hun Sen are in Beijing and are scheduled to escort the former king's body back to Cambodia Wednesday.

Even in death, the "King-Father" gets royal treatment. Sihanouk's body will be transported in a gold coffin and, once back, he will lie in state at the royal palace for three months before being cremated at a traditional Buddhist ceremony.

In a letter to the former king's widow, Monineath Sihanouk, and the current king, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the former king an “incomparable eminent figure.” The premier also tried to reassure Cambodians, saying he would remain dedicated to Cambodia’s “independence, integrity and…national unification.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was among those who paid respects to Sihanouk Tuesday, calling him an "old friend of the Chinese people."

Other condolence messages continued to pour in from around the world. The United States, which helped topple Sihanouk in a Washington-backed 1970 coup, offered condolences in a brief State Department memo.

North Korea, whose founder Kim Il Sung was close with Sihanouk, on Tuesday praised the former leader's "unprecedented" friendship with Pyongyang.

Sihanouk came to the throne in 1941 and went on to rule Cambodia off and on for more than 60 years.

He was heralded for bringing his ancient kingdom through independence from France, war and genocide to form a fragile democracy. But Sihanouk's name is also still soiled from his association with the Khmer Rouge movement, blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians.

Sihanouk abdicated the throne to his son, Norodom Sihamoni, in 2004 citing old age and health concerns.