Ex-king Michael’s coffin arrives in Romania ahead of funera

 (AP) — A coffin carrying the body of the late Romanian King Michael I arrived Wednesday at Bucharest’s airport from Switzerland ahead of his funeral this weekend.

The former king, who ruled Romania twice and was forced to abdicate by the communists in 1947, died on Dec. 5 in Switzerland at age 96.

Michael’s five daughters and his estranged grandson Nicholas Medforth-Mills, who was stripped of his title in 2015, took part in the ceremony at the airport, where flags were flown at half-mast.

A military plane transported the coffin, which was covered in the royal coat of arms and placed on a dais. Orthodox priests performed a short religious service before the coffin left for Peles Castle in the mountain resort of Sinaia, where Michael was born on Oct. 25, 1921.

Michael, who played a pivotal role in Romania’s switch to the Allied cause following a coup in 1944, spent decades in exile working as a chicken farmer and aircraft pilot. He finally got his citizenship back in 1997, eight years after the collapse of communism.

At the royal palace in Bucharest, where Michael’s coffin will lie in state for two days before his funeral Saturday, a handful of people paid their respects Wednesday morning.

Flickering candles, poems, flags, and hundreds of flowers — roses, lilies, carnations and poinsettias, symbols of the nation’s grief — were placed on the palace railings.

Retired psychologist Aurelia Turcu, 85, said Michael made “a radical contribution to our country’s history in WWII and (showed) fantastic courage.”

She said the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty that ruled Romania from 1866 until Michael’s abdication “brought civilization and prosperity to us; I am convinced Romania would have been better with a monarchy.”