PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) ­- Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated today because of poor health and asked the people of Cambodia to begin a search for a successor, the head of the National Assembly said.

The king made the announcement in a letter from Beijing. The note was read to the National Assembly early today by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is also head of the assembly.

The news “was shocking and very regretful,” the prince said.

The king asked the country to form a throne council – a nine-member panel – to consider choosing the next monarch, the statement said.

Although Cambodia’s monarch is not selected according to heredity, the candidate must have a royal bloodline.

Ranariddh has been considered a candidate for the throne in the past, but has said he is not interested in becoming the country’s next monarch.

In a letter read on state television late Wednesday, the king asked that he be allowed to “retire” because of his fragile health, saying that doctors have detected a “new and serious ailment” in his stomach. The letter did not elaborate.

“I ask all compatriots to please allow me to retire,” the king’s letter said, according to the television broadcast.

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