Oct 17, 2012 / 5:57 am
The body of Cambodia's late King Norodom Sihanouk returned to his homeland Wednesday afternoon, welcomed by hundreds of thousands of mourners who packed tree-lined roads in the Southeast Asian nation's capital ahead of the royal funeral.
Sihanouk, 89, died Monday of a heart attack in Beijing, where he had been receiving medical treatment since January.
The former monarch was the last surviving Southeast Asian leader who pioneered his nation through postwar independence. He served as prime minister and twice as king before abdicating the throne for good in 2004.
A Boeing 747 arranged by the government of China, a steadfast friend of the late monarch for decades, brought back the body, which was accompanied by Sihanouk's widow, Queen Mother Monineath.
Also on the plane was Sihanouk's son and successor, King Sihamoni, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who had travelled to Beijing to retrieve the body.
The casket was carried on an elaborate motorized float from the airport to the Royal Palace, where Sihanouk will lie in state for three months. During that time, the public can pay respects before the body is cremated according to Buddhist ritual.
Monks and soldiers both rode the float, designed to represent a giant golden phoenix-like bird.
Crowds had gathered since morning all along the eight-kilometre route, many wearing white, a colour of mourning in Buddhist tradition. Officials estimated the crowd to be more than 200,000. Long Demon, a city government spokesman, told the local news website DAP that as many as 1.2 million people in total, including many from outside the capital, had come to mourn.
When the float passed them, wailing grew louder among the onlookers. Many, especially the elderly, bowed low with hands pressed together above their heads in a traditional mark of respect. Some tossed flowers.
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