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A Year After Passing, Former King Sihanouk Remembered

Cambodia's Buddhist monks, right, walk around during an opening of the inauguration of a statue of Cambodia's late King Norodom Sihanouk, in front of Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Cambodia has inaugurated a large monument honoring the country’s former king, nearly a year after his death. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PHNOM PENH - Cambodia held a day of remembrance for its deceased former king, Norodom Sihanouk, on Tuesday, inaugurating a statue of the monarch to mark a year since his death.

Top officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party were in attendance, but the ceremony was not joined by members of the opposition, who say they were banned from holding a ceremony this week.

Kem Sokha, vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told reporters Monday that the party had mourned the loss of the king at its party headquarters, but he assailed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for monopolizing Tuesday’s official ceremony.

“The statue of the late king father belongs to us all,” he said. “It does not belong to the government or any parties.”

The statue was erected near Independence Monument, which marks Cambodia’s break from France, under the direction of the then-prince Sihanouk.

Norodom Sihanouk was a revered figure to many Cambodians and had been an influential political figure prior to his abdication from the throne, in 2004.

“I still see his face before my eyes,” a computer science student at Norton University, who gave her name as Chanthou, told VOA Khmer recently, as she sat with friends. “I feel it’s very fresh, and I still cannot forget.” ‘

The late king, who died in Beijing at the age of 89, has retained a presence amid the psyches of many Cambodians, and his memory is kept alive across many forms of media.

“Even on Facebook, they share his photo every day,” Chanthou said. “I listen to the songs he wrote on the radio. He was so young, to be in power at 16 years of age, but his governance was very good.”

Hundreds of thousands of people mourned his death, when his body was returned to the country from China, where he frequently stayed for medical treatment. Those who mourned his loss spanned the economic spectrum.

“One year has passed, but his smile is there,” said Noun Phim, a garment factory worker in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district, who has been following the one-year ceremonies on television.

Venerable monk Seng Samnang, who studies Buddhism at Neakakvoan pagoda, said one year was a very short time to contain all the mourning he had for the late king.

“He was a very respectful person to Buddhism,” said the young monk, who carried a parasol and stopped for a moment amid his daily call for alms. “He advised politicians to reconcile and to respect Buddhism.”

“His smile was to his citizens, with love,” said Vin Srey Peou, a vender in Tuol Kork district. “I wish our leaders would comport themselves with the same manner he did.”