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Cambodia Crowns New King

Cambodia is crowning a new monarch, King Norodom Sihamoni, who assumes the throne following the 60-year reign of his father, Norodom Sihanouk, who resigned earlier this month citing ill health and advancing age.

The sound of traditional music and religious rituals mark the three days of coronation ceremonies for Cambodia's new king, Norodom Sihamoni.

The ceremonies are taking place at the imposing grounds of the royal palace overlooking the juncture of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers.

Saffron-robed Buddhist monks and white-robed Brahmin priests join together, chanting, blowing sea shell horns, and praying for a successful reign for the new king.

The new king makes offerings of flowers, fruit, and incense and then bows and is blessed by each religious leader.

One of the royal family members in attendance, Senator Sisowath Sirirath, says that because Cambodians consider their monarch to be a god-king, the spiritual world must be told about the succession.

"The offering is to inform the angels in heaven that the Kingdom of Cambodia has a new king by the name of Norodom Sihamoni," said Sisowath Sirirath.

King Sihamoni was elected unanimously two weeks ago by a throne council. The council was hastily convened after his father said he was resigning because of old age and ill health. According to the constitution, the Cambodian monarchy plays no role in politics, but historically it has served as a unifying force during times of strife and turmoil.

The 51-year-old king, who was trained as a classical dancer, has lived most of his life abroad. As a result, he is not well-known to Cambodia's 13 million citizens. But that is changing.

The streets of Phnom Penh are adorned with large portraits of the young-looking, shaven-headed monarch. The palace has been re-painted for the festivities and blue-and-red Cambodian flags fly from office buildings and homes.

Political analyst Ok Serei Sopheak says that Norodom Sihanouk, by installing his successor while he is still alive, has done a great thing for the country.

"What he has done is assure long-term stability for Cambodia, assure the continuity of constitutional monarchy in Cambodia," he said.

Mr. Sopheak notes that the succession has also been carried out peacefully and with the unanimous approval of the country's often fractious political leaders.

King Sihamoni has projected a modest, quiet personality, which differs from his father's charismatic, sometimes mercurial persona. Although inexperienced, the new monarch is expected to receive a great deal of advice from his politically astute father who guided Cambodia for more than 60 years, through independence, civil war, a coup detat, and numerous other periods of political uncertainty.