Cambodia's King Sihanouk says he'll leave throne

Ailing monarch, 81, has little political power

The World


Frustrated and sick, King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia said yesterday that he would give up the throne he has held, off and on, for more than a half-century, throwing his nation into confusion and doubt.

In statements posted on his Web site, faxed to his inner circle and read on Cambodian television, the king, who is in Beijing, said, "I can no longer continue my mission and activities as king and head of state to serve the needs of the nation."

The constitutional monarch, 81, has threatened to abdicate repeatedly over the years, and his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is speaker of the National Assembly, said, "We still hope that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow the king will agree to be the king again."

But the prince said, "According to a royal message that we have received and read to the National Assembly, the king has abdicated."

Sihanouk has repeatedly expressed anguish at the poverty and political turmoil that continue to torment what he called his "Kafkaesque kingdom."

Although his power is almost entirely symbolic, he has been the soul of Cambodia since he was installed by its French colonial rulers in 1941 - rising and falling through the Indochina war, the rule of the Khmer Rouge, a decade of civil war and a decade of uncivil peace.

In recent months he has said he felt marginalized as Cambodian politicians struggled to form a government after an inconclusive election in July 2003.

Among his complaints is the failure to formalize a nine-member Throne Council that, under the constitution, should choose his successor within a week of his death or incapacity. The constitution does not mention abdication, adding to the uncertainty of the moment.

The council is dominated by supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and a change in monarch would not affect the prime minister's grip on power. Diplomats and other analysts said the king could be attempting to force the issue now to ensure the royal line survives and to secure his own influence in the choice of his successor.

The king has spent a great deal of time over the years in Beijing for rest and for the treatment of a variety of ailments.

Diplomats said it appeared that Chinese doctors had diagnosed a reappearance of cancer.

In messages sent to his inner circle, the king asked that he no longer be addressed as "His Majesty" and said:

"I express my gratitude to the people who would like to allow me, in waiting for my death, a tranquil life, in serenity, which I have not had since 1940."

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