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Hayden and the longest limo in town

Hayden and the longest limo in town

P HNOM Penh rolled out the red carpet, and dozens of banners and flags and a

small army of cheering fans, to lay on the ritziest of welcomes for Australian

Governor-General Bill Hayden last week.

From the moment Hayden and

entourage arrived at Pochentong Airport on April 27, he was feted in a manner

not seen since the King's long-awaited return to Cambodia.

Met by King

Norodom Sihanouk, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and a host of

other dignitaries, Hayden was escorted past an elaborate, well-drilled Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces honor guard.

He was led down a trail of red carpet

to the largest stretch limousine - jet black, with a Beverley Hills designer

number plate - ever seen in Phnom Penh. Hundreds turned out to greet him.

University students lining the streets along Pochentong Road - others had

earlier been trucked to the airport at 2pm, to await his 5pm arrival - were

joined by curious onlookers.

The route from the airport to the Cambodiana

Hotel, where Hayden stayed, was adorned with Cambodian and Australian flags.

Banners proclaimed "Long Live Australia", "Long Live Cambodia" and "Long Live

Solidarity and Friendship" between the two.

That evening, Hayden attended

a Royal Banquet in his honor with King Sihanouk and Prince Ranariddh.

The

following morning, he traveled with the King and Prince - in a 30-car motorcade

with 14 police motorcycle outriders around the limousine alone - to the National

Museum for one of the highlights of his visit.

A ceremony marking the end

of an Australian-funded, three-year renovation project at the museum was held

before a large assembly of Royal and government dignitaries.

In the

afternoon, Hayden met National Assembly officials including Chairman Chea Sim,

before meeting with both Prime Ministers, who hosted a dinner for him that

evening.

The following day was spent visiting two NGO children's centers,

the Silver Pagoda, and, in an unexpected move, several markets. He bought

silverware at the Russian Market and jewelry for his wife at the New

Market.

"It wouldn't have been much cheaper if we had sold them to

Khmers," said one woman who charged him $250 for a platinum bracelet and a pair

of earrings inlaid with precious stones.

"We sold them to him on the

understanding he was a guest of the Royal Government," she said, adding she

would have charged $280-$300 if she had wanted to make a profit.

Market

sellers said they were given a few tips by Hayden's Khmer escorts, who visited

them shortly before his arrival. "They told us we should sell real gems, not the

counterfeit ones."

Later that day, Hayden hosted a reception for Phnom

Penh's Australian community at the Cambodiana before watching an artistic

performance hosted by King Sihanouk and Prince Ranariddh. He left Cambodia the

following morning.

Hayden - who has a long relationship with Cambodia

dating back to his time as Foreign Minister in the 1980s - stayed away from

political topics during his time.

"There's a long way to go...but there's

more promise, there's more reason to be optimistic than pessimistic," he said in

a speech.

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