Thousands of people assembled near the Royal Palace early on Saturday morning and took part in a rehearsal procession that moved slowly along Sisowath Quay, an event that will be repeated later this week for a crowd as large as 1.5 million when the funeral of King Father Norodom Sihanouk begins.
Niek Bun Chhay, deputy director of the government’s committee on the funeral, said more than 3,000 government officials, police, teachers, students, monks, Red Cross volunteers and others participated in the exercise.
“They made an effort to do well, because this was the last rehearsal,” Chhay said.
The government expects the real procession to draw an even more participants and span 2,000 metres at a time along the six-kilometre route.
The procession will begin at the newly constructed crematorium beside the Royal Palace – where Chhay estimates 600,000 people have paid their respects since Sihanouk’s death – then head north on Sisowath Quay to Wat Phnom, turn south on Norodom Boulevard to Independence Monument and circle back to the crematorium.
Businesses and schools along the route have been asked to close on Friday to clear the way.
“Traffic police are prepared to stop travel on the main roads,” said Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche.
Saturday’s rehearsal covered only the part of the route between the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom, but participants were fully outfitted in military uniforms, mourning garments and other ceremonial apparel, with groups holding pennants and playing drums, cymbals and horns.
Phnom Penh businessman Vong Thy, 55, called the procession “very big and beautiful – suitable for a king”.
“When I saw the procession, I felt shocked, because it’s nearly the day of the late King’s cremation, when he will say goodbye to his people,” A Noun Tim, 80, who came from Ratanakkiri on Friday to watch, said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced 13 foreign leaders will attend the February 4 cremation, including four prime ministers: France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault, Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra, Vietnam’s Nguyen Tan Dung and Laos’s Thongsing Thammavong.
Although business went on at some riverside establishments, many tourists gathered to watch the rehearsal.
“I’m so fortunate to have been here during this time,” said Australian national Bev Wood, whose intended tour of the capital’s markets was blocked by the procession.
To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at [email protected]
Justine Drennan at [email protected]