2004.10.29 Cambodia prepares to welcome new king

PHNOM PENH - Cambodians were celebrating Friday as a 51-year-old former ballet dancer prepared to become the country's new king.

Norodom Sihamoni is taking over from his father, Norodom Sihanouk, a popular king who held the throne for more than 60 years.

Sihamoni was to be enthroned Friday to reign over the nation of 13.1 million people, but the three days of celebration to mark his ascension began the day before.

During a religious ceremony in the sprawling Royal Palace Thursday, Sihamoni lit incense and bowed three times, symbolically seeking permission to become king.

Prominent citizens and members of the royal family kneeled on the floor during the ceremony, while musicians played pipes, drums and conch shells.

New portrait

At the palace, a huge portrait of Sihamoni has already replaced the picture of his father.

Sihamoni is Sihanouk's son with former queen Monineath.

He has no political experience and accepted the position reluctantly, saying he feared he might not know enough to do the job properly.

His half brother, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was also considered for the position, but he preferred to keep his job as leader of the opposition Funcinpec party.

The new king is better known as Cambodia's ambassador to UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization.

Cambodia's king rarely gets directly involved in politics, but Sihamoni's 82-year-old father Sihanouk was a respected figure during years of war and the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Sihanouk has asked that the ceremony for his son's ascension to the throne be low-key, saying it would be inappropriate to have a lavish ceremony in such an impoverished country.

Written by CBC News Online

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