Body of late Cambodian king returns home

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Body of late Cambodian king returns home

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The body of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk has been welcomed by hundreds of thousands of mourners in his homeland’s capital.

Cambodians dressed in white lined the streets of Phonm Pehn ahead of the royal funeral.

The turnout was indicative of the unfaltering respect for a quixotic patriarch whose political machinations played a part in Cambodia’s slide from liberation from French colonialism to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields” revolution.

Sihanouk died on Monday of a heart attack in Beijing, where he had been receiving medical treatment since January.

A week of mourning began on Monday and preparations were underway for a lavish state funeral at an undisclosed date. Next month’s water festival was cancelled and Sihanouk’s body will lie in state for three months.

In the late 1960s, having abdicated to boost his political power, Sihanouk played both sides in the Cold War and could not stop Cambodia’s descent into the Vietnam War, siding with Vietnamese communists who fought Americans.

After being ousted in a US-backed coup, he made a pact with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and paid a heavy price, becoming a prisoner in his palace and losing five children and 14 grandchildren.

He was powerless to halt the deaths at least 1.8 million of his people – a quarter of the population – who perished of disease, exhaustion and execution during the Maoists’ 1975-1979 rule.