PHNOM PENH - Thousands of mourners gathered outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, many holding white flowers and weeping at the passing of former king Norodom Sihanouk, who died following a heart attack in Beijing early Monday.
“I loved His Majesty, but now I’ve lost him,” said Chhun Chenda, who lives in Phnom Penh and said she wanted his body returned to Cambodia.
Sihanouk, who was 89, spent most of his time in China in recent years, receiving medical treatment for cancer and other ailments. His body is to return to Cambodia on Wednesday.
Workers were busy cleaning the grounds at the Royal Palace on Tuesday in anticipation for the interment of the body, which will lie in state for three months of public viewing before a cremation ceremony is held.
Sihnaouk, who abdicated the throne to his son, Norodom Sihamoni, in 2004, was much loved in the country, involving himself in affairs of state as the constitutional monarch and making frequent contributions to the poor.
“I have nothing to say,” said monk Try Piseth, 32. “I only pray that he lies in peace.”
Condolences came in from around the world. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he hoped the legacy of the former king “will allow Cambodia to advance the national healing process, including through a commitment to justice.”
In a letter to Sihanouk’s widow, Monineath Sihanouk, and the current king, Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the former king an “incomparable eminent figure.”
The premier said he would remain dedicated to Cambodia’s “independence, integrity and…national unification.”