SINGAPORE -- The descendants of Singapore's last sultan were gone from their palace Wednesday, routed to make room for a Malay cultural center.
Several policemen looked on as the main entrance to the dilapidated, two-story building was sealed. Banners warning "State Land: No Trespassing," went up across the three acres of grounds."The palace is empty," a policeman said. "The tenants are evicted."
Only weeks ago, the 160-year-old palace was crowded with 200 descendants of Singapore's last sultan, Hussein, who died in 1835.
Istana, as the palace built by Hussein's son Ali is called in Malay, will now be turned into a center for Singapore's Malay community. The bluebloods lost a court battle with authorities.
Their story has been closely followed by Singapore's Malay community, which comprises 14 percent of the city-state's 3.2 million people. Chinese dominate with 78 percent, and Indians make up 7 percent.
Sultan Hussein ruled Singapore and parts of neighboring Malaysia, ceding them to the British in 1824. When he died, the British appropriated 56 acres of his lands.
But they allowed his offspring to live in Istana and ruled that financial provisions be made for the descendants of the sultan's oldest son.
As the royal family grew over the years, members built unsightly tin and plywood annexes around the once-lovely colonial building and turned the gardens into parking lots and chicken roosts.
The yearly allowance of $17,000, which comes from renting out the sultan's acres, is shared among the 79 recognized heirs of Hussein.
But in March, the government announced plans to empty Istana. It offered the families $205,000 a year to share for 30 years and help in resettling if they would give up their yearly allowance and leave the palace.
Some heirs suspect, however, that the land, in central Singapore, is really worth much more.
A number of royals, tired of living in cramped and dirty quarters, accepted the deal.
But three of the princes sued the government in September for violating their rights. Their case was thrown out, they said.
"We are not squatters. We are legal owners here," Tengku Mohamed Damaishah, 28, said last week, surveying the rooms of his childhood and posing next to a portrait of his father.