Jordan mourns its monarch

King Hussein dies of cancer, his queen and family at bedside

Wails of grief in the streets

As body lies in state, presidents, premiers arrive to pay respects

The Death Of King Hussein

February 08, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordanians bury today the king they loved like a father, the soldier they knew as a peacemaker and the statesman they remembered as a humble servant of the country.

For many in this desert kingdom, King Hussein bin Talal has been the only ruler they have ever known. His death yesterday from cancer plunged this nation of 4.6 million people into grief and generated an outpouring of sympathy from leaders across the globe.

Many of those same figures traveled here today to pay their respects to the 63-year-old king, whose body will lie in state at Raghdan Palace before being buried near his father and grandfather at the royal cemetery.

Presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens from places as far apart as Austria and Yemen came here to offer their respects to the king and condolences to his widow, the American-born Queen Noor, Jordan's new king, Abdullah, Crown Prince Hamzah, named by his brother yesterday as the kingdom's second-in-command, and the rest of the Hashemite family.

But their attendance at what will certainly be the largest funeral Jordan has ever held is more than an international show of support. It serves as a testament to the diminutive king with the deep voice who served as a source of stability and moral strength in a region beset by war and violence during his 46-year reign.

President Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Hillary, will lead the U.S. delegation that includes three former presidents and the parents of Queen Noor, former airline executive Najeeb Halaby and his wife, Doris.

"No words can convey what King Hussein meant to the people he led for nearly half a century," Clinton said yesterday. "Words cannot convey what he meant to me as a friend and inspiration. Through good times and bad, through health and illness, he showed the power of a strong will applied to a worthy cause.

"Like so many, I loved and admired him."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remembered the king as "an Arab leader who dedicated his thoughts and life to the service of his nation's causes and escorted his people through some of the most difficult crises over nearly half a century."

Many Arab nations declared official periods of mourning, some as long as Jordan's own 40 days. Syria, Jordan's troublesome neighbor to the north, also set aside three days of mourning and canceled elections. Israel, with whom Jordan was officially at war until King Hussein signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1994, will mourn King Hussein's passing today. It was an extraordinary gesture of respect for a former Arab enemy.

But it was here in Jordan, a former British protectorate that King Hussein transformed from backward desert kingdom and home of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees into a modern nation, that the death of the king was so deeply felt.

After the last attempts at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., failed to stem the king's cancer, he decided to return to Jordan to die. He arrived Friday unconscious, was admitted to the military hospital that bears his name and placed on a respirator.

Yesterday, at 11: 43 a.m., his heart stopped. Queen Noor and four of his five sons were at his side. His eldest son, Abdullah, was called to the hospital and, after his arrival, the king was removed from the respirator, said Hamdi Murad, an assistant general secretary of the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Affairs.

By noon, Koranic verses were being intoned on Jordanian television and the nation knew their king was dead.

But the news was already engulfing the rain-soaked Jordanian capital.

Loudspeakers at the al-Husseini Mosque downtown blared the words of the Koran. Shopkeepers shuttered their doors. Black flags fluttered from the antennas of taxi cabs. Ribbons of mourning draped photographs of the king that are widely displayed in the city. Jordan's flag flew at half-staff at banks and government buildings.

A nation grieves

Outside the King Hussein Medical Center, wails of grief rose up in a crowd of Jordanians who had maintained a vigil there since the king's return. Men wearing the red-and-white checkered headdresses favored by Jordanians wrapped their scarves across their faces in a sign of mourning. Then there were the chants, so often orchestrated in other Arab lands where demonstrations are ordered by the government, but clearly spontaneous and deeply felt here yesterday.

"There's no God but one God. We'll sacrifice our blood for you, King Hussein," throngs of men shouted.

As the cold, incessant rain intensified, the crowd grew. A hundred, 500, 1,500 people. Jordanians left their jobs and homes and streamed to the broad avenue outside the hospital. Barkev Shandian was driving to his office when he heard the radio announce the king's death. He turned his car around and headed for the hospital.

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