For Hussein, a farewell truce

Setting aside enmity, world leaders gather to honor the king

Talk of `a new beginning'

Jordanian mourners crowd Amman streets for funeral procession

February 09, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

AMMAN, Jordan -- In death, King Hussein of Jordan brought together the heroes and the villains of his ultimate ambition to make this a peaceful region.

They all came to his funeral yesterday. The peacemakers and the troublemakers. The optimists and the naysayers. Men who had wished him dead long ago. Others his armies had fought in war.

American presidents and Iraqi diplomats, Arab leaders and Israeli prime ministers, former guerrilla fighters and retired generals, Europeans and those they once ruled assembled at a royal palace to pay their respects to the 63-year-old king who died Sunday of cancer.

The assemblage represented an array of international leaders and reflected the world's conflicts during the nearly half-century the king ruled.

Set against a backdrop of wailing bagpipes and roaring jets, Arab headdresses and modern cannons, King Hussein's funeral reflected the breadth of the late monarch's relationships and his uncanny ability to traverse the political terrain of the stormy Middle East. He managed to overcome historic enmities and develop relationships on either side of the divide.

But in many ways, yesterday's funeral was an occasion for the Jordanian people to bid a last farewell to the king they called the father of the country. Tens of thousands of Jordanians lined the nine-mile route of the funeral procession that made its way through Amman under stormy, overcast skies. Armed soldiers guarded the streets.

King Hussein, a graduate of Britain's Sandhurst officer training college, was Jordan's commander in chief and was accorded a full military funeral.

Fathers brought their sons. Mothers stood arm in arm with daughters. Brothers donned black head bands, while elderly Bedouins wrapped their red-and-white checked head scarves about their faces in mourning.

When the jeep bearing the flag-draped coffin passed, soldiers along the route had to link arms to keep the crowd from surging into the street. Some were beaten back. Dozens of young men jogged after the royal jeep.

"I wanted to reach out to the coffin and take his hand and kiss it," said a tearful Marlene Khoury, a 42-year-old homemaker.

"I don't believe he's dead," said Mahmoud Yusef Sadka, a 33-year-old clothes salesman. "We will remember him in our hearts forever."

As the procession neared the gates of the Raghdan Palace compound, the soldiers couldn't contain the crowds. Mourners swarmed into the streets in such numbers that several of the red jeeps leading the way swerved to avoid hitting them.

Eight Jordanian army colonels carried the casket up the red-carpeted steps of the palace. The king's body lay in state in the palace's marble-floored throne room. King Abdullah and his four brothers, including Crown Prince Hamzah, carried the coffin for part of the way. They were the first to pay their respects. They were followed by the other men of the Hashemite family, many wearing the traditional red-and-white headdress favored by Jordanians.

Following Islamic custom, the king's widow, Queen Noor, and the women of the royal family did not attend the funeral. But more than 40 heads of state paid their respects.

President Clinton and three former presidents, George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford, stood solemnly before the casket. Syrian President Hafez al Assad prayed, with his palms facing skyward. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat saluted. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan bowed.

Other dignitaries included Prince Charles of Britain, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The mourners at Raghdan Palace made for some odd pairings, many involving Israel and the Arab world. Israel has formal peace treaties in the region only with Egypt and Jordan.

Even President Clinton remarked on the unusual mix of international personalities, "people coming from all over the world who are at each other's throats."

President Assad of Syria arrived unexpectedly at the funeral, which was attended by a large Israeli delegation headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This was the first time the two leaders had been at an event together.

Syria and Israel, enemies since the Jewish state's founding in 1948, have been at loggerheads over the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic mountainous range captured by Israel in the 1967 war. They also are embroiled in South Lebanon, where Israel maintains a security zone and its soldiers are fighting Syrian-supported Islamic guerrillas.

Assad's arrival also marked the first time in about a decade that the Syrian president was in Jordan.

Clinton, who led the American delegation, spoke with Assad while both were at the funeral, according to White House officials.

Netanyahu and Assad never spoke. When asked about his proximity to the Syrian leader, Netanyahu played down the coincidence. "We didn't exactly share a tent," he said.

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