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The New York Times: Asia's Elite Jet in for 'Subdued' Brunei Wedding: “new mood of thrift in a palace once tainted by financial scandal.”: “Now, corporate sponsors are funding a big part of the total cost of celebrations, estimated at around $5 million.”: “Oil and gas firms Brunei Shell and Brunei LNG…” (



September 8, 2004


BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (Reuters) - A glittering guest list of Asian leaders and Middle East royalty began jetting into the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei on Wednesday for a royal wedding being billed as low-key by local standards.


The leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines will mix with Saudi and Bahrain royalty at Thursday's celebrations, the climax of weeks of traditional nuptials between the heir to the Brunei throne and his teenaged bride.


But the celebrations, which will include a procession by the royal couple around the streets of the capital, will be a less flashy affair than other royal Brunei extravaganzas, in tune with a new mood of thrift in a palace once tainted by financial scandal.


``Of course, there are lots of people coming. There'll be a wedding banquet. There'll be some fireworks and all that. But there'll be no Michael Jackson concert or anything like that,'' said journalist Ignatius Stephen who runs a local news Web site.


``They are not going overboard this time. It will be very, very subdued, really sober.''


In 1996, entertainer Michael Jackson was flown in to perform free for the people of Brunei to mark the sultan's 50th birthday. Now, corporate sponsors are funding a big part of the total cost of celebrations, estimated at around $5 million.


Oil and gas firms Brunei Shell and Brunei LNG and local car distributor Goh Hock Kee are among sponsors for the wedding between Prince Billah Bolkiah, 30, and 17-year-old Sarah Pengiran Salleh, in her final year of high school.


Brunei has felt the winds of change since the Asian financial crisis singed its previously fire-proof economy in the late 1990s. Around that time, the royal palace was also rocked by a financial scandal arising from collapse of a business empire run by the sultan's brother, Prince Jefri.


Prince Jefri, a former finance minister, was dismissed as head of Brunei's investment agency and the collapse of his Amedeo business empire left debts of around $16 billion.


Only last July, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has ruled since 1967, said he would reopen Brunei's parliament, suspended at independence 20 years earlier. But Brunei remains technically under a state of emergency, under a 1962 decree invoked after a rejection of demands to end the monarchy led to an armed revolt.


Thursday's celebrations follow a series of traditional wedding ceremonies that led to the couple's actual marriage in Brunei's state mosque last Saturday, where only the groom was present for the confirmation of wedding vows under Islamic law.


The couple met through a mutual friend. The bride's mother is Swiss and the father comes from a titled Brunei family.


Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito left Japan on Wednesday to attend the wedding, leaving behind Princess Masako, who has been suffering from a stress-related mental disorder.

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