The four-day long funeral of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk began on Friday, complete with royal pomp and ceremony. Sihanouk was born in 1922 and led what many consider a colourful and eventful life. Revered by many in Cambodia, Sihanouk is fondly remembered for leading the country to independence from the French in 1953.
He was crowned king in 1941 but by 1955 he decided to abdicate to become involved in politics and became prime minister that same year.
As war began to rage across Indochina he tried to keep Cambodia neutral but was put under pressure from all sides. He was eventually deposed by the US-backed Lon Nol regime in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam war.
In exile, he aligned himself with the Khmer Rouge and was installed as their figurehead during their genocidal regime. Sihanouk remained Cambodia’s monarch after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 and abdicated for the second and final time in 2004, due to ill health.
Sihanouk had a reputation as a bit of a playboy in his earlier years, and had several wives, fathering at least 14 children. He was also famous for making numerous films, many of which are still popular today. Sihanouk’s life was inextricably tied to events in Cambodia over the course of his 89 years.
The day began at sunrise with Buddhist ceremonies being held in the privacy of the Royal Palace, while crowds gathered outside. There had been suggestions in the press of upwards of a million people coming out on the streets to show their last respects to the King, however the many thousands of people who did line the streets were there by invitation only. Almost one third of the capital was closed off to the general public to allow for a 6km procession around the city.
The funeral procession began with the late king’s son and daughter, Prince Ranariddh and Princess Bopha Devi, leading the coffin to the riverside where they joined thousands of officials, soldiers, court attendants and ordinary people for the twoand-a half hour procession. The coffin stopped at four of Phnom Penh’s most important Pagodas to receive the blessings of monks before returning to the cremation site, located next door to the palace complex.
On Saturday and Sunday, people will be able to visit the cremation site to pay their respects before the cremation on Monday, which will be attended by a number of heads of state.