Wong Maye-E, Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodians mourning the late King Norodom Sihanouk carried flowers and burning incense to the Royal Palace on Wednesday to pray before his body arrives home from China.
More than 1,000 people, some with tears in their eyes, gathered in hot weather, many of them kneeling before a portrait of the late monarch.
"I needed to come here today, to pray and see the body of the king because he dies only one time, not twice," said Khy Sokhan, a 73-year-old woman in a wheelchair outside the palace.
In Beijing late Wednesday morning, traffic authorities cleared several roads and a highway as a bus decorated with yellow flowers and apparently carrying Sihanou's body traveled to the airport with a few dozen black cars and minibuses.
Chinese state television carried live coverage of the procession while Chinese flags at Tiananmen Square and other key locations in the capital flew at half-staff. China's Foreign Ministry said State Councillor Dai Bingguo was escorting Sihanouk's body to Cambodia.
Sinahouk's successor, King Norodom Sihamoni, and the queen mother were returning as well.
Cambodians were gathering along the road to Phnom Penh International Airport before the arrival Wednesday afternoon. As many as 100,000 people are expected to line the route to the palace, where Sihanouk's body will lay in state for three months. After that time, it will be cremated according to Buddhist ritual.
Sihanouk had been the last surviving Southeast Asian leader who pioneered his nation through postwar independence. But Cambodia became enmeshed in the conflict in neighboring Vietnam, leading to his first fall from power and culminating in the murderous rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, during which about 1.7 million of his countrymen perished.
After the Khmer Rouge were ousted, Sihanouk regained the throne in 1993. His influence waned as Prime Minister Hun Sen grew in prominence, and Sihanouk abdicated in 2004.
The former monarch spent much of the rest of his life in China. He died Monday at age 89 after suffering a heart attack.
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