2004.10.29 Cambodia begins swearing-in new king

Traditional religious rituals for the coronation of Cambodia's new king, Norodom Sihamoni, have begun .

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.

The decision was made a week after his ailing father, Norodom Sihanouk, announced his shock abdication.

King Sihamoni will be symbolically sworn in as monarch in a ceremony rich with tradition on Friday evening, when he will be handed royal regalia allowing him to begin his reign over 13 million subjects.

In preparation, eight white-robed Brahmin priests fanned out after sunrise to the four compass points inside the royal palace on the banks of the swirling Tonle Sap river.

The priests made offerings of fruit and traditional flower arrangements to the heavens as they chanted in the private ritual.

In the afternoon, King Sihamoni attended a one-hour ceremony with both Buddhist and Brahmin priests at the Throne Hall.

Wearing a white gold-buttoned jacket with deep green sarong pants, the king bowed and made the Khmer sampeah - a gesture placing palms together in front of his chest - to colourful offerings of fruit and flowers.

"Today is a great day for the coronation of the new king to begin... Please all spirits in heaven, bless King Norodom Sihamoni with happiness," said one Buddhist priest before his Brahmin counterparts blew conch shells.

The new monarch then entered the Hall to light a candle next to royal regalia, which are actually symbolic replicas of priceless items that went missing decades ago.

King Sihamoni will extinguish the flame on Saturday at the end of the formalities.

Phnom Penh's boulevards and intersections are adorned with fluttering red and blue Cambodian flags, while portraits of the shaven-headed king in a western suit are installed across the city.

Buildings are festooned with banners proclaiming "Long Live the King!" along with the occasional portrait of former King Norodom Sihanouk, who celebrates his 82nd birthday on Sunday.

The Government has declared a national holiday on Friday.

-- AFP

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