Cambodia welcomes a new king

A 51-year-old former ballet dancer became the new king of Cambodia Friday at a ceremony in the golden coloured Royal Palace.

Blessed by chanting Buddhist monks, former ballet dancer Norodom Sihamoni was crowned Cambodia's new king in a glittering, elaborate ceremony Friday at the country's Royal Palace.

Norodom Sihamoni received a blessing from his father, Norodom Sihanouk, a popular king who held the throne for more than 60 years.

He prayed before the statues of his ancestors while repeating the royal oath three times.

"I swear to abide by the constitution and laws of the kingdom and am committed to serve the interests of the state and the people," said Sihamoni, wearing golden ceremonial garments.

Following that, 52 Buddhist monks chanted blessings for close to 10 minutes.

Three days of celebration

A three-day celebration to mark his ascension began Thursday when Sihamoni lit incense and bowed three times, symbolically seeking permission to become king.

Prominent citizens and members of the royal family kneeled on the floor during the ceremony, while musicians played pipes, drums and conch shells.

Sihamoni, who was chosen as the new king Oct. 14, is Sihanouk's son with former queen Monineath.

He has no political experience and accepted the position reluctantly, saying he feared he might not know enough to do the job properly.

His half brother, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was also considered for the position, but he preferred to keep his job as leader of the opposition Funcinpec party.

The new king is better known as Cambodia's ambassador to UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization.

Cambodia's king rarely gets directly involved in politics, but Sihamoni's 82-year-old father Sihanouk was a respected figure during years of war and the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge.