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Manager Arrested for Tearing King Father’s Portrait Away From Worker

Cambodia Sihanouk Mourned
Cambodia Sihanouk Mourned

Cambodian police arrested a garment factory manager and charged her with crimes related to insulting the monarchy on Monday.

(VOA Khmer) Cambodian police arrested a garment factory manager and charged her with crimes related to insulting the monarchy on Monday, after she allegedly tore a photograph of late king Norodom Sihanouk from the hands of a mourning worker.

Millions of people have come to Phnom Penh to mourn the passing of Sihanouk, who died in Beijing Oct. 15. The former king enjoyed wide support, including from the working class.

Wang Zia Choa, 49, the head of a sewing section at Top World Garment, allegedly tore the sign from the hands of a worker, sparking a major protest of other workers and leading to her arrest.

Chuon Sovann, chief of Phnom Penh police, said she would be charged under two articles of incitement, for violating a constitutional article that says the monarch is “untouchable.”

The protest and subsequent arrest underscore the reverence many Cambodians still hold for the former king, who led the country through its independence and held power, in one form or another, for decades.

Hundreds of monks sat in rows and chanted prayers before the Royal Palace on Monday, as dignitaries and histories continued to remember his legacy to Cambodia.

Sihanouk would have been 90 on Oct. 31. He received a French education under colonial rule, at primary school in Phnom Penh and secondary education in Saigon. He was put on the throne at the age of 19.

“The French chose me because they thought I was a little lamb,” Sihnaouk once wrote. “But later they were surprised to learn that in fact I was a tiger.”

In 1947, he convinced the French to have Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Steung Treng provinces returned from Siam, now Thailand. He is also remembered for pushing a decision by the International Court of Justice for Preah Vihear Temple to be returned to Cambodia. In 1953, he was dubbed “the Father of Independence.”

In a speech on Independence Day, 2003, he reminded the country that he had walked Cambodian into independence with “no bleeding from either French or Khmer.”

In 1955, he abdicated the throne to stand for elections. His father, Norodom Suramarith, became king. Sihanouk became the prime minister. In 1960, his father died, and he took the throne as prince, retaining the position of prime minister. He thus began his Sangkum administration, modernizing Cambodia and leading it into its halcyon days.

Historian David Chandler said Sihanouk was a connection between Cambodia’s past and the modern age.

“When we are united,” Sihanouk once said, “we are very strong, as can best be seen in the Angkorian era.”

But by then the conflict in neighboring Vietnam had begun. Sihanouk tried to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality, but his position and political maneuvering eventually led to his outer, in 1970.

He put his support behind the communist guerrillas he dubbed “the Khmers Rouges,” allowing them to recruit in the countryside under his banner. The Khmer Rouge grew to overthrew the government of Marshall Lon Nol, in April 1975. Sihanouk was briefly made titular head of state, but was ultimately held under house arrest.

Sihanouk applauded the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese-backed forces, but he also strongly opposed the occupation that followed. He was a key facilitator of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. He continued to rule as monarch until his abdication to his son, Norodom Sihamoni, in 2004. (Reporting in Phnom Penh by VOA Khmer's Heng Reaksmey, Kong Sothanarith, Say Mony, Khoun Theara)