PHNOM PENH - One hundred thousand mourners are expected to take to the streets this week when Cambodia receives the body of its former monarch, Norodom Sihanouk, who died in Beijing early Monday of a heart attack.
Born in 1922, Sihanouk was a defining leader in Southeast Asian politics for decades, leading Cambodia through its independence and aligning himself with the Khmer Rouge after he was ousted from power in a US-backed coup in 1970.
He was revered by many citizens of Cambodia, which is a constitutional monarchy with a god-king tradition from ancient times.
His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, and Prime Minister Hun Sen traveled to Beijing on Monday and are expected to return with Sihanouk’s body Wednesday.
Sihanouk’s body will be interred at the Royal Palace for viewing for three months before a cremation ceremony, Royal Palace officials and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told VOA Khmer.
Cambodians were saddened by the news Monday. Sihanouk had made frequent donations to the poor, like Hor Seang, 83, who began sobbing when she heard the news. “He was very kind, and I hugged him once,” she told VOA Khmer in an interview in Kampong Speu province. “But now that he’s dead, I really pity him.”
Venerable monk Sim Mony, chief of Sras Pagoda in Kampong Speu, said the former king “was our shade, and he shared the people’s difficulty and he was very good.”
Flags will fly at half staff through Oct. 21, and Cambodian television stations have been ordered to refrain from programming that is too comedic or violent, in reverence.