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Cambodia's former king Norodom Sihanouk dies, aged 89

Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk - a revered figure in his country - has died aged 89, BBC reported Monday.

He died of a heart attack in China’s capital, Beijing. Sihanouk came to the throne in 1941 and led Cambodia to independence from France in 1953.

Despite long periods of exile and his abdication in 2004 due to ill health, he remained an influential figure.

Sihanouk was born in 1922, the eldest son of King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Kossamak.

Educated at French schools in Saigon and in Paris, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government in France crowned Sihanouk king of Cambodia in 1941, bypassing his father in the hope that the 18-year-old could easily be manipulated.

However, after the war Sihanouk embarked on an international campaign aimed at ensuring independence for Cambodia.

It was achieved without bloodshed in 1953 - after nearly a century of French rule. Two years later Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father and became both prime minister and foreign minister of his country.

Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge brought death and starvation to millions of Cambodians He tried - but failed - to keep the country from the Cold War conflict that engulfed south-east Asia in the 1970s, striking an ill-fated deal with the emerging Communist force, the Khmer Rouge.

The brutal regime - which ruled the country in 1975-79 - was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.

It claimed the lives of more than a million people - and some estimates say up to 2.5 million perished.

Sihanouk later condemned the Khmer Rouge for the deaths of the Cambodians, including of his own children.

However, Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge had a common enemy in the face the Vietnamese-installed government, the BBC’s Jill McGivering says.

When the UN in 1991 persuaded the Vietnamese to withdraw and set Cambodia on the road to democracy, Sihanouk returned again as king.

His role was increasingly as broker between Cambodia’s warring political factions as his health steadily worsened, our correspondent says.

Despite being criticised for being autocratic, volatile and elitist, she adds, for the people of Cambodia he was a much-loved father figure, a rare point of constancy through decades of instability and bloodshed.


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