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KING HUSSEIN: 1935-1999

Jordan Mourns King as Leaders Gather at Funeral

Monarchy: Crowds trudge through rain to mark end of an era and loss of Hussein, ruler for 47 years. Hours after father's death, King Abdullah II is sworn in.

February 08, 1999|TRACY WILKINSON and REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

AMMAN, Jordan — Amid an extraordinary outpouring of international sorrow, Jordanians today mourned the death of King Hussein, the only ruler most of them have ever known and a nation-builder who came to embody their very identity.

Sobbing openly, swooning from grief and lifting their eyes skyward in prayer, people from all walks of life, from the Bedouin desert to urban offices and modern schools, marked the end of an era and the passing of a man most saw as a father and legend, and whom the world saw as a unique peacemaker.

Hours after the 63-year-old Hussein succumbed to complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphona on Sunday, his eldest son, Abdullah, 37, placed his hand on the Koran, took a one-sentence oath and was sworn in to become the fourth monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

And hours after that, King Abdullah II named his 18-year-old half brother, Hamzeh, as his heir, fulfilling what a royal decree said were the dying wishes of Hussein. Hamzeh was the late king's favored first son by Queen Noor, the American-born wife who was at his side when he died.

In testament to the esteem in which Hussein was held, heads of state and government from all over the world were attending today's funeral, including President Clinton and all living former U.S. presidents except Ronald Reagan. And countries as adversarial as Israel and Syria went into formal mourning.

A saddened Clinton, speaking in Washington before departing for Jordan, praised Hussein's "rare kind of courage," which earned him the "respect and admiration of the entire world."

"King Hussein lived his life on a higher plane," Clinton said.

Hussein's death robs the world of one of the few Middle East figures who could mediate between the Arab world and the Israelis, as his impasse-breaking participation in last fall's Wye Plantation peace negotiations in Maryland showed.

His demise also leaves this small and weak country in a precarious position, vulnerable to predatory neighbors while its new ruler finds his way. Instability here could have a domino effect that might eventually pose a threat to Israel. Abdullah will be faced with daunting economic and strategic issues before he has had a chance to sharpen his own political skills.

Jordanians learned of their king's death when television and radio began broadcasting verses from the Koran on Sunday. At schools, Koranic readings were piped into classrooms over loudspeaker systems.

Abdullah finally went on national television to relay the news to his subjects. He appealed for calm and pledged to preserve his father's course.

"Hussein's soul will remain with us and among us," he said, speaking in a slow Arabic tainted with the accent of his British and American schooling. "King Hussein was a father to every one of you, as he was my father. Today, you are my brothers and sisters, and you are dear to me."

Mourners Brave Rain to Pay Respects

As the death of Hussein, who claimed to be the 42nd generation direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad, was being revealed, torrents of rain and fog enshrouded the land.

Outside the King Hussein Medical Center, where the king died, crowds who had kept vigil for 48 hours erupted in frenzied grief when the news spread by word of mouth.

Under a larger-than-life portrait of the smiling king, students, professionals, police and farmers chanted "God is great," called out the dead monarch's name and waved their arms in despair and disbelief. They hung from trees and waved Jordanian flags. At times, the crowd surged dangerously, and several people fainted.

"We had hoped for a miracle," 25-year-old lawyer Dani Murad said as she wept underneath an umbrella. "All of us want to stand here, hand in hand, to go through this together. All of us are proud to be Jordanian. He made us proud Jordanians."

Hundreds of people trudged in the cold rain for miles to reach the hospital. Throughout this capital, photographs of Hussein that adorn seemingly every other building were draped in black ribbon. Bouquets of flowers piled up beneath some posters at major intersections. Black flags were hung from windows and car antennas. Shops shuttered their doors and windows to close for the start of a 40-day mourning period.

On the southern outskirts of Amman, Sheik Mahmoud Irshed al Tayyeb, 75, the leader of a Bedouin clan of 4,000, lifted his hands toward heaven as tears filled his reddened eyes.

"His spirit has risen," he said. "God wanted him too much."

Al Tayyeb, who once worked as an aide to Hussein's grandfather, the first King Abdullah, and also knew his father, King Talal, met Hussein when he was young and had seen him frequently in the years since at tribal meetings.

"He was a man when he was still a child," Al Tayyeb said, his voice filled with sorrow. "And now he has died so young."

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