PHNOM PENH : Traditional religious rituals for the coronation of new Cambodian monarch, Norodom Sihamoni, have begun, as the capital gears up for three days of festivities marking his ascension.
The 51-year-old ex-ballet dancer who has spent most of his life outside Cambodia was officially named king by a throne council on October 14, a week after his ailing father Norodom Sihanouk announced his abdication.
Sihamoni will be symbolically sworn in as monarch in a ceremony rich with tradition Friday evening, when he is handed royal regalia allowing him to begin his reign of 13 million subjects in this Southeast Asian democracy.
In preparation, eight white-robed Brahmin priests on Thursday fanned out to the four compass points inside the high-walled royal palace on the banks of the swirling Tonle Sap river, a royal palace official told AFP.
"The Brahmin ceremony began at 6:45am ... The priests made offerings of fruit and traditional flower arrangements to the heavens and chanted," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The traditional Buddhist ceremony would begin this afternoon at the Throne Hall, he said, with Sihamoni making offerings to statues of former Cambodian monarchs in the presence of nine senior monks.
"Then he will ask permission from the kingdom's spirits to start the ceremony," the official said, adding that the king would light a candle to symbolise the beginning of the coronation period.
Sihamoni will extinguish the flame Saturday at the end of the formalities, set to be low-key relative to some of the lavish coronations held during a monarchy stretching back centuries to the Angkor period.
Phnom Penh's boulevards and intersections were meanwhile adorned with fluttering red and blue Cambodian flags, while more looming portraits of the shaven-headed king in a western suit were installed across the city.
Banners proclaiming "Long Live the King!" were also festooned around the capital and on buildings, along with the occasional portrait of former monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk, who celebrates his 82nd birthday on Sunday.
Palace preparations were also well underway, with huge rolls of red carpet carried inside on Wednesday.
The government has declared a national holiday on Friday, with up to 50,000 people expected to converge in the public park outside the palace on Saturday to hear the new monarch's first speech to the nation.
Sihanouk stepped down after more than 60 years at the heart of Cambodia's political world, citing ill health and a wish to see the smooth transition of rule to the next king, who reigns but does not rule.