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Asia

Cambodians mourn late King Sihanouk

Cambodians have gathered in Phnom Penh to pay their last respects to the late King Norodom Sihanouk. The former king had been lying in state since his death last October.

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the one-kilometer-long (0.6-mile) route taken by a gilded chariot on Friday, as it brought the king's remains from the palace and the burial site where he is to be laid to rest . His widow, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, and his son, King Norodom Sihamoni, followed on foot.

The procession began with a series of artillery shots as a mark of respect to the late king, who died in Beijing of a heart attack at age 89 last October.

Buddhist monks were to hold a vigil by the late king's body and say prayers every evening until Monday, when he is to be cremated.

Sihanouk's widow and son are to light the funeral pyre.

King Sihanouk played a leading role in Cambodian politics in various functions for almost six decades, after being placed on the throne by French colonial authorities in 1941, when he was just 18.

He subsequently pushed for Cambodia's independence, which it achieved in 1953. The king later abdicated in order to enter politics and wound up serving as the country's prime minister a number of times.

Sihanouk, who was elected head of state in 1960, was deposed 10 years later in a US-backed coup. After initially allying himself with communist rebels who later became the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk and his family wound up being placed under house arrest by the regime, which is believed to have killed at least 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979.

He returned to the throne in 1993 but abdicated for a second time in 2004 due to failing health.

pfd/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)