Europe

King Michael: Romania bids farewell to former monarch

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Media captionThousands of people came to pay their respects to the former monarch

A state funeral is under way in Romania for its former monarch, King Michael, who died aged 96 on 5 December.

More than 20,000 Romanians queued in the capital Bucharest to pay their respects to his body, lying in state.

Royalty from across Europe are attending, including Spain's former King, Juan Carlos, and Prince Charles.

King Michael is best remembered for the coup he joined in August 1944 to switch Romania from the Nazi to the Allied side in World War II.

Forced to abdicate by Romania's communist leaders a few years later he lived most of his life in exile in Switzerland.

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Image caption Prince Charles (first from left) was among the royal mourners

After the Romanian revolution in 1989, he had a difficult relationship with the country's new rulers, who were afraid he would reclaim his throne.

Instead, he helped negotiate Romania's membership of the EU and Nato.

King Michael: Romania's democratic monarch

Romania country profile

Royal necropolis

As soldiers carried his coffin on Saturday, a clutch of foreign royals looked on, also including Spain's former Queen Sofia, King Carl Gustaf of Sweden and his wife Queen Silvia, Greece's former Queen Anne-Marie, Henri, Duke of Luxembourg, and Belgium's Princess Astrid and her husband Prince Lorenz.

His coffin is to be carried on the railway line his grandfather, Carol I, built from Bucharest to the royal necropolis at Curtea de Arges, north of the capital.

For most of the war, King Michael was largely a figurehead, scorned by Romania's fascist dictator, Ion Antonescu, during the four-year alliance with Hitler.

Image caption King Michael is seen here in 1951 with his wife, Queen Ann, who died last year

However, at the age of 22, he took part in the coup, ordering Antonescu's arrest on 23 August 1944.

After the Nazis' defeat by the Soviet army, communists took power in Romania and at the end of 1947, he was forced to abdicate.

He did not go back until 1990, after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

For Romanians, he was an important player throughout some of the most difficult times in their history: at heart a decent man and a democrat in an age dominated by totalitarian regimes, Romanian journalist Petru Clej writes.

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