2004.10.26 Cambodia to celebrate coronation of new king

Phnom Penh - Buddhist monks at pagodas across Cambodia have been asked to chant and play traditional music to mark this week's coronation of new King Norodom Sihamoni, an official statement said on Monday.

Three days of celebrations surrounding the coronation of the 51-year-old king, an ex-ballet dancer and cultural diplomat, will begin on Thursday, with a formal ceremony attended by top officials and ambassadors slated for Friday.

King Sihamoni was appointed by a panel earlier this month, a week after the shock abdication of his father Norodom Sihanouk. The pair returned home from Beijing on Wednesday last week to a huge welcome in the capital.

While the celebrations are expected to be low-key in the impoverished nation at Sihanouk's request, the committee organising the event has asked that monks nationwide simultaneously chant and play drums, bells and instruments on Friday at 6pm "to congratulate and bless the new king".

On Thursday traditional religious activities by Brahmin priests will take place within the palace grounds to prepare for the main ceremony on Friday, a separate agenda said.

On Saturday the new king will deliver his first speech to the nation as monarch from the palace. Fireworks displays are planned for three evenings along with dance performances at various public places.

King Sihamoni, who quit his 11-year post as Cambodia's ambassador to the United Nations' cultural agency last month, is barely known by his 13-million subjects because he has spent most of his life outside the kingdom.

Cambodians have welcomed him as their monarch, appearing comforted by a promise by the revered Sihanouk - who has been synonymous with the nation's history for more than 60 years - to educate him in royal duties.

The appointment of Sihamoni, the only surviving son of the former king and queen, was unusually smooth for Cambodia.

Stability remains fragile after nearly three decades of intermittent conflict that formally ended in 1998. - Sapa-AFP

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