Prayers as Sihanouk returns home
Cambodians prayed for the soul of their former king Norodom Sihanouk and world leaders sent their condolences as the country prepared for the return of his body.
Sihanouk died aged 89 of a heart attack in Beijing, where he had been receiving medical treatment since January for multiple ailments. Officials expect at least 100,000 people to line the route from the Phnom Penh airport, where his body is expected to arrive on Wednesday, to the Royal Palace, where it will lay in state during a week of official mourning.
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen ordered all radio and television stations not to play inappropriately lighthearted music or programming that might show disrespect to the late monarch, who abdicated in 2004 in favour of his son Sihamoni.
Sihanouk's body will remain in the palace for a total of three months, during which time the public can pay respects before it is cremated according to Buddhist ritual.
Nearly 100 Buddhist monks and nuns chanted and prayed for Sihanouk at a one-hour ceremony at a pagoda near the Royal Palace.
"As Buddhists, we believe that our chanting and praying will help send the soul of our beloved king-father to rest in peace and be quickly reborn," said Ngoun Pheadkey, a 22-year-old monk. He added that the ceremony was also to express gratitude to the former king for his leadership and legacy.
Bunches of flowers lay against the palace walls.
Sihanouk was the last surviving Southeast Asian leader who pioneered his nation through post-war independence. Like U Nu of Burma and Sukarno of Indonesia, he tried to steer his country on a neutralist course during the Cold War.
Eventually, however, his country became enmeshed in the conflict in neighbouring Vietnam, leading to his first fall from power and culminating in the murderous rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, during which about 1.7 million of his countrymen perished.
His legacy became tainted because in an effort to regain his political influence, he made common cause with Khmer Rouge, though the regime never yielded power to him and killed five of his children.