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  • Hussein: A Lifetime Balancing Act

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  •   World Leaders Gather in Jordan for King's Funeral

    King Abdullah, Reuters
    King Abdullah, Jordan's new sovereign, keeps one hand on the Koran as he is sworn in at Jordan's parliament less than four hours after the death of his father, King Hussein. (Jim Hollander — Reuters)
    By Howard Schneider and Lee Hockstader
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, February 8, 1999; Page A1

    AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 7 King Hussein died today after a long battle with cancer, ending a reign of nearly 46 years and prompting an outpouring of emotion both here and abroad over the loss of a leader known for his humanity and daring pursuit of Middle East peace.

    Hussein's 37-year-old son Abdullah was sworn in as king shortly after his father's death at the age of 63 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at 11:43 a.m. local time this morning (4:43 a.m. EST).

    Although the king's death had been expected since he returned here last week from a desperate final round of cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., today's news was deeply upsetting to Jordanians, most of whom have known no other ruler. Shopkeepers hung black flags from their storefronts and went home, flags were lowered to half staff and the airwaves were filled with verses from the Koran. Some people wept openly.

    Hussein's death was felt around the globe as foreign leaders and dignitaries made plans to attend his funeral Monday. "The world mourns the loss of one of its great leaders," President Clinton said before departing for Amman with three former presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. "I mourn the loss of a partner and friend."

    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also expected to attend.

    After his swearing in, Abdullah promptly called his family into council and fulfilled his father's last command by appointing his 19-year-old half-brother Hamzeh, son of the American-born Queen Noor, as his designated successor. The move affirms the continued high standing in Jordan of Hamzeh, considered to be his father's favorite son.

    During a television address to the nation, Abdullah asked for patience as he establishes his reign, and pledged to continue on the path set by his father.

    "We will preserve the course that Hussein set," said Abdullah, a career army officer with little previous experience in politics. "May the man rest in peace. ... The soul of King Hussein will remain with us and be with us and won't disappear from our hearts and our souls."

    In a testament to Hussein's ability to build bridges in a region that often seems intent on destroying them, his funeral reportedly will be attended not only by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders but also by representatives from Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, which are hostile to the Jewish state.

    A funeral procession will carry Hussein's casket through downtown Amman to the Royal Palace grounds around noon Monday. There it will be placed in the "throne room" for a brief viewing by world leaders. That will be followed by a ceremony in the palace mosque, after which the king's body will be entombed on the palace grounds.

    Hussein, who was crowned king in May 1953 upon turning 18, nine months after his father Talal abdicated for health reasons, had survived assassination attempts, wars including one that cost him the West Bank and Jerusalem and inter-Arab feuding only to be felled by a cancer that raged through his body in the last six months.

    During Abdullah's swearing-in ceremony at the Jordanian Parliament this afternoon, the only sound for a few long moments was of muffled sobs.

    Approaching the chamber's red throne, wearing his family's trademark red-checked head scarf, the young monarch stopped before an oil portrait of his late father dressed in formal military regalia, threw back his shoulders and stood at attention for more than five seconds.

    He then stepped to the podium, placed his right hand on the Koran and swore a brief oath of office in accordance with the Jordanian constitution.

    "I swear to safeguard the constitution and be faithful to the nation," he said in a clear voice.

    "God save his majesty King Abdullah and watch over him," said the speaker of parliament, Zeid Refai, who choked back tears as he opened the meeting.

    After the parliamentary session, lawmakers trickled out into the rain that has coincidentally deluged this dry desert nation at each key point in the king's decline over the last three weeks. They expressed grief and shock, while also assuring journalists that Jordan remains a model of stability.

    "I hope we'll have the guts and determination to go in the direction [Hussein] wanted us to go," said Ali Abu Ragged, a member of "We announce to the Jordanian people and all the friends in the world that King Hussein has met his maker."

    Head of Jordanian television,

    announcing Hussein's death

    parliament. "He built this country from scratch as well as its institutions, a country that's now respected in all the world."

    One member of the upper chamber , Abdul Bakhi Jamou Shishan Gilani, 73, was old enough to remember King Hussein's own swearing-in. "At that time there were no political parties. ... King Hussein could make a poor country into a good example for the world. I wish the same for his son."

    Emotion has built steadily in the country since the king's return on Friday.

    Unconscious at the time, dying slowly as the cancer shut down his internal organs one by one, King Hussein's condition was nevertheless described consistently by the local media here simply as "critical."

    Still, word of mouth and news reports from abroad left no mistake that their ruler's time was ending.

    When death came at 11:43 a.m., the announcement was simple and touching. Without referring to what had happened, Jordanian television began broadcasting verses from the Koran, allowing the muezzin's plaintive voice to close this chapter in the country's history.

    The official notification was made at 12:30 p.m.

    "We announce to the Jordanian people and all the friends in the world that King Hussein has met his maker," the head of Jordanian television said.

    They were words that plunged a nation into mourning. Across from the main al-Husseini mosque, some teenagers wrapped black bands around their foreheads. A taxi driver wound his way through traffic, weeping at the news.

    Money-changers did a brisk business selling dollars, but in a sign of confidence in the new monarch, the Jordanian dinar held steady, even increasing slightly in value against the greenback.

    Long lines formed at bakeries as Jordanians sought to stock up on household staples, anticipating that all commerce would halt during the three-day period of mourning declared by the Royal Palace. Separate buildings were designed for men to pay their respects to King Abdullah, and women to pay their respects to Hussein's wife, Queen Noor.

    Outside the hospital where Hussein lay, the scene was tumultuous as hundreds of Jordanians gathered in a sometimes windy, torrential rain.

    As knots of women wailed and held their hands to the sky, men gathered in a surging throng, some sitting on the shoulders of friends, waving Jordanian flags or pictures of the king or pieces of shredded black mourning cloth.

    "Our blood and our soul is sacrificed for you," they shouted in cadence, interspersing chants about Hussein with the Muslim proclamation: "There is no God but God."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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