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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 07:54 GMT
Cambodia marks 50 years independence
King Sihanouk
King Sihanouk has been on the throne since independence
The king of Cambodia has used 50th anniversary celebrations of the country's independence from France to call on its ruling parties to work together.

King Norodom Sihanouk brokered an agreement between the three main parties to form a coalition government last week - following July's inconclusive elections.

He urged legislators to take their seats in the National Assembly "without delay" and get on with the business of government.

Thousands of people lined the streets of the capital Phnom Penh to watch the independence celebrations, which coincided with an annual water festival.

The 81-year-old king, with his wife Queen Monineath, began the day's festivities by driving to the Independence Monument to light a candle.

He was later joined by leading politicians, members of the royal family and foreign ambassadors for a civilian parade.

King Sihanouk was on the throne when the country won its freedom from the French on 9 November 1953, after 90 years of colonial rule.

Warning

Although he has no actual power, the king still plays an important role in the country and helped bring about a breakthrough over a new government.

But he warned the politicians, in an independence day speech: "If you cannot (work together) you have to take responsibility before the people and the nation."

King Norodom Sihanouk with Queen Monineath at independence day celebrations
The King and his wife took part in independence day celebrations
Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party fell short of a two-thirds majority needed to form its own government in elections last July.

The other two parties, royalist Funcinpec and opposition Sam Rainsy Party, had refused to join a coalition until an agreement in principle last Wednesday.

Under the deal, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh would become president of the National Assembly and a Sam Rainsy party member would be one of parliament's three vice-presidents.

However, some reports suggest opposition leaders still have concerns about the agreement - and want assurances that the political system will be reformed.

Correspondents say that the King's survival apart, much has changed in Cambodia since its move to independence.

Once a dominant power in the region, it is now one of the world's poorest countries.

It still bears the scars of the Khmer Rouge regime, which is estimated to have killed more than 1.5 million people between 1975 and 1979.




SEE ALSO:
Cambodia king shuns parliament
27 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia PM defiant after poll
30 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Cambodia
12 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Profile: Hun Sen
25 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Sam Rainsy
25 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Prince Norodom Ranariddh
25 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Khmer Rouge's legacy of fear
24 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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