Thousands of Romanians pay final respects to king Michael


Bucharest (AFP)

Thousands of Romanians paid their last respects to beloved former king Michael, who died last week aged 96, in front of his coffin at the Royal Palace in Bucharest on Thursday.

Michael, who had been one of the last surviving World War II leaders, passed away in Switzerland following a battle with leukaemia on December 5.

Carrying flowers and candles, people of all ages waited in line for hours before bowing in front of the coffin, which was covered in the regal coat of arms, in the palace's throne room.

"We took the train this morning and came with all our love and all our heart to pay a final tribute" to the king, Mariana Bolches, who travelled 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the southeastern city of Constanta, told AFP.

"I lived all my childhood in a building near the Royal Palace. My walk to school passed by here and I came across the king many times. I loved it so much," said Teodor Banu, with tears in his eyes.

Since the king's death, Bucharest's palace -- now home to a museum -- has become a place of pilgrimage for many Romanians.

"I particularly appreciated his modesty, his nobility... and especially his extraordinary patriotism," said Andreea Ileana, 50, with a large bouquet of flowers in her hands.

The former king's body, which returned from Switzerland this week, will be laid to rest at a grand state funeral on Saturday.

Michael, a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty, ruled Romania twice, from 1927-1930 and then from 1940-1947, when he led a coup that ousted marshal Ion Antonescu and saw Bucharest join the allied forces against Hitler.

But the postwar communist government ended the monarchy in the Balkan country and Michael was forced to abdicate and go into exile in December 1947.

Stripped of his citizenship, he eventually settled in Switzerland, where he earned a modest living as an aircraft mechanic and farmer.

He finally returned to Romania in 2002.