PHNOM PENH, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of thousands of mourners on Wednesday afternoon tearfully welcomed the arrival of the body of the most revered ex-King Norodom Sihanouk, who died of illness at the age of 90 in Beijing on Monday.
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, former Queen Norodom Monineath and Prime Minister Hun Sen brought home the former King's body from Beijing by Air China. Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo also escorted the coffin to Cambodia.
The body arrived at 3:00 pm (local time), marking the official start of a week of mourning.
At a traditional ceremony at the Phnom Penh International Airport, 90 Buddhist monks chanted to pray for the soul of the deceased King-Father before the body was moved onto a swan-shaped vehicle.
Then, the convoy of the ex-King's body headed to the Royal Palace.
Over 100,000 sympathizers, wore white shirts with black ribbons pinned to them in a sign of mourning, flanked the 10-kilometer route from the Phnom Penh International Airport to the Royal Palace to salute the King-Father's body.
Most of mourners cried while others were sad when seeing the convoy of the King-Father's body.
"We miss him very much, he was a great king," said a 78-year- old mourner In Tan, recalling that during the reign of former King Sihanouk from 1950s to 1960s, the country saw rapid development in all domains.
Minister of culture and fine arts Him Chhem said, "It is a great loss for Cambodia. One of the former King's unforgettable achievements for the nation is the independence he gained from France in 1953," he told reporters.
The nation is in sadness. Flags are all flying at half-mast during a week-long period of mourning and all peoples are advised to pin a small, black piece of cloth to their shirts as the sign of mourning.
All of 13 TV stations and 101 radio stations cancelled all their daily programs to focus their broadcasts only on documentaries featuring the King-Father's royal crusades and achievements he had made during his life time since he firstly reigned the country in 1941.
Condolence messages from leaders around the world have been read through all those TVs and radios.
Cambodia saw the King-Father as a great Cambodian hero who brought Cambodia full independence, peace, national reconciliation and unity, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said.
"The former King was the father of independence, territorial integrity, and national reconciliation and unity," he said.
Government spokesman and information minister Khieu Kanharith said, "The former King was among elite heroes in the 20th century and he was the first founder of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and China, and the ties have been steadily strengthened and fostered until today."
According to the official schedule, the body of the King-Father will be exhibited at least three months at the Royal Palace before it is cremated.
"During the 3-month display, civil servants, civilians and foreign friends can pay their last respects to the King-Father," said a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday.
Sihanouk wrote in a royal letter in January, 2012 that he requested his body to be cremated instead of being buried and his ashes to be put in an urn, preferably made of gold, and placed in a stupa at the country's Royal Palace.
Born on Oct. 31, 1922, Sihanouk reigned the country from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 until his voluntary abdication on Oct. 7, 2004 in favor of his son, the current King Norodom Sihamoni.
He was the king who led the country to gain independence from France in 1953. He witnessed the decades of political and social turmoil in Cambodia, despite long periods of exile overseas.
He suffered from various forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension and had been treated by Chinese doctors in Beijing for years before his death.
During his life time, besides politics and social development, Sihanouk was a prolific amateur music and song composer. He had produced numerous works in Khmer, French and English.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen also announced to cancel the annual Water Festival, which was planned on Nov. 27-29, in order to mourn the King-Father.
Water Festival is the largest annual festival in the Southeast Asian nation. Around 3 million Cambodians, especially those from rural areas, converge in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, to enjoy the regatta.