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New King Pledges to Serve Cambodian People - 2004-10-30

Cambodia's new king, Norodom Sihamoni, has made his first address to the people, one day after assuming the throne. The new monarch made the address Saturday to a crowd gathered at the main gate of the royal palace.

Thousands of Cambodians gathered early Saturday morning to see and hear their new king in person for the first time.

King Sihamoni, sitting with royal family members and senior government officials above the grand entrance to the palace grounds, called his selection two weeks ago a great honor. He quoted his father, Norodom Sihanouk, as saying that a king is never master of the people, but rather their servant.

"I will always be your faithful and devoted servant," he said. "I will never live apart from the beloved people."

Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed the succession, saying it made him proud.

The prime minister says upholding the constitutional monarchy is the main factor in ensuring continuity of the monarchy.

Cambodia's constitution mandates that the monarch remain outside politics. King Sihanouk, during a reign that spanned six decades, often came close to crossing that line. But he also acted as a unifying force during periods of war and civil strife.

King Sihanouk, who is 82, announced his abdication because of ill health and age, in early October. His son was selected to succeed him two weeks ago and was crowned on Friday.

King Sihamoni has spent most of his life abroad, but as a United Nations cultural ambassador, he often spoke out for the disadvantaged.

The king pledged to give priority to the poor. And he urged Cambodians to banish injustice, favoritism, and corruption.

Mok San, a homemaker with four children, was among the thousands of people who gathered to greet the new king. She says she believes he will be a good leader.

Ms. Mok says the new king will be like a tree providing shelter and protection to the people.

Bun Lin Da, who works with a local civic group, says she thinks the king has good intentions.

She says if she could, she would ask the new king to help the poor, so that Cambodia can achieve peace and development.

Kheang Tam, a 53-year-old businessman, says it was time for a change in the monarchy.

Mr. Kheang says the king's father, Norodom Sihanouk, was old so he was right to let a younger person lead the country.

Twenty three-year-old Sam Ath agrees, but hopes the legacy of King Sihanouk lives on.

He says if he had the chance to talk to the king he would tell him to love his people and his country as his father did.

King Sihamoni will soon tour the countryside to meet rural Cambodians. In addition, officials say China has invited the king for his first state visit in the near future.