The nation stood still in an official moment of silence as fire consumed the body of King Father Norodom Sihanouk this evening during a moving and spectacular ceremony to close out the four-day royal funeral.
In front of Veal Preah Meru, where the King Father's ornate crematorium stands, more than 400 prisoners were officially pardoned in the afternoon and given gifts from the royal family. Inside, royals along with foreign heads of state and local officials shuffled past the casket, bowing as they offered their final respects.
Just after 6 pm, King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath lit the pyre. The 3,000 in attendance sampeahed as Buddhist funeral chants filled the air. Across Phnom Penh, the sounds of an artillery salute could be heard half an hour later.
Over the course of the next two days, the King and Queen Mother will set off on a royal barge to scatter some of Sihanouk's ashes in the river.
The rest will be placed in a diamond urn, which mother and son will parade through the cremation site before storing at the Royal Palace.
Blocked from the streets surrounding the crematorium and Royal Palace, tens of thousands of mourners – the Cambodians whom Sihanouk had so enchanted during his life – observed the ceremony as best they could from a distance.
“I begged the police: if will not allow me to get in Veal Preah Meru, can they let me go in front of Royal Place to pay my respects to him? But they still would not allow me,” said 48-year-old Hun Savun, who traveled to the capital days ago from Kandal province in the hopes of getting one last glimpse of the king.
“I really want to see my king father’s coffin and pay respect to him in front of his coffin, I don’t want to see it by TV.”