Gravely Ill King Hussein Returns Home
Associated Press Writer
Friday, February 5, 1999; 2:00 p.m. EST
AMMAN, Jordan –– Gravely ill with cancer, King Hussein arrived home today to a nation deeply apprehensive about their country's future when the monarch dies.
The 63-year-old ruler left an American hospital the night before after his body rejected a bone marrow transplant meant to fight off his lymphatic cancer. A royal statement said at the king's own "persistent wish" that he was returning to his homeland.
Dozens of Jordanians came to the hospital where Hussein was taken to offer their organs to save their beloved king. They came from throughout the country and blocked the streets surrounding the hospital, called the King Hussein Medical City.
"I heard of his kidney and liver failure and I am here to offer mine to Hussein," said Ahmed Salahat, 55, a businessman, standing at the hospital's gate with his 15-year-old son, Hamza.
Nearby, an older woman wearing a headscarf sobbed: "I wish it was me instead of him."
Jordan television interrupted its regular programming late in the afternoon to say the king, the Mideast's longest-ruling leader, was still undergoing medical treatment, and said the same thing in its nightly broadcast.
The somber programs on state television centered on Hussein, including his 1994 peace treaty with Israel, and showed clips of him kissing children and shaking hands with world leaders, including President Clinton.
Earlier, six former Jordanian prime ministers gathered at the Prime Ministry to discuss preparations for the king's funeral and "how to break the news to the people," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Wearing an IV, Hussein was taken gingerly off the plane on a stretcher this morning, said royal palace officials, who saw the king. As aides carried the monarch, whose face was flushed, he repeatedly reached out for the hand of his American-born wife, Queen Noor, they said.
The weeping of women relatives broke the somber silence, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One source called the king's condition a "hopeless case." Asked about his condition, another source said it was "a matter of hours." He said the king's liver and kidney had failed, his brain had stopped functioning and he was surviving on life support.
Journalists were not allowed to see the king, who arrived from the United States on a private jet at the Queen Alia International Airport on the outskirts of Amman.
Family members, including Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's 37-year-old son and heir, met the monarch. Hussein was accompanied on the flight by others in the royal family, including Noor.
A motorcade of more than 70 cars escorted by the king's elite security detachment drove slowly from the airport. Two ambulances, one of them carrying the king, drove at its head. The streets were blocked to the hospital, which was heavily guarded.
Prince Hassan, whom Hussein deposed as heir last month, arrived at the hospital shortly after the king's motorcade.
Noor was at his bedside through the morning, and relatives were paying visits, the sources said.
In Amman, a capital of 1.2 million people, streets were quiet and businesses were closed today, the Muslim holy day. But throughout the country, Jordanians listened to the radio, watched television and scoured newspapers for clues to the king's condition.
"I and my family spent the night watching the news. This is a sad moment for Jordan. It feels like losing a father," said Sanaa Barakat, a 25-year-old bank clerk.
The king's trip home came only 11 days after he abruptly left for the United States to treat the relapse of cancer.
The king's condition "has become critical due to the failure of the function of internal organs," the king's private physician, Lt. Gen. Samir Farraj, said Thursday.
Farraj's statement, issued at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., gave no further details on the king's health. But an official in Amman said Hussein's body had apparently rejected a bone marrow transplant performed on Tuesday.
Another source at the royal palace, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today that the king was "aware of everything around him and he was conscious" when he left the Mayo Clinic on Thursday afternoon.
Hussein has been on the throne 46 years. He is known as a force for moderation in the volatile region and has pushed for a broader regional peace.
Many Jordanians have known no other leader. When Hussein suddenly flew back to the Mayo Clinic last week, Jordan's stock market shuddered and people began buying dollars in apparent fear that the Jordanian currency might suffer.
The king's arrival today in secrecy stood in stark contrast to his homecoming Jan. 19, when he rode through the city, cheered by tens of thousands of well-wishers, some of them firing guns in the air.
Days later, he replaced Hassan, whom he had groomed for the throne for 34 years. He named his eldest son, Abdullah, as heir, then abruptly left for the United States.
Abdullah is an army major general, commanding an elite unit that protects the royal family. His political views remain largely unknown, but his aides say he shares Hussein's pro-Western outlook.
Labib Kamhawi, a political science professor at the University of Jordan, predicted the "succession will go on smoothly with no serious mishaps" should the king die.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press