Jordan mourns King Hussein as world leaders arrive for funeral
'This is a black day in our lives'
February 7, 1999
AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- As Jordanians on Sunday mourned the loss of King Hussein, who deftly ruled his small kingdom in the volatile Middle East for five decades, world leaders began gathering in Amman for his Monday funeral.
The 63-year-old monarch died Sunday morning, two days after returning from the United States following unsuccessful cancer treatment.
Near the hospital where King Hussein passed away, tears and rain mixed as Jordanian men and women grieved in disbelief.
Government offices closed, and schools sent students home as the nation mourned its monarch.
"This is a black day in our lives. I can't believe King Hussein is dead," said Rula Abu Soud, 25, wiping away tears. Rula, carrying her 3-year-old daughter, left home immediately after hearing of the king's death.
People, many in traditional Jordanian red and white headdress, placed bouquets of white flowers in front of a large poster of King Hussein over the hospital's gate.
"I am void of any feelings. Our loss is great. When my mother and sisters heard the news of his death they fainted," said Adel Aqrabawi, 24, an employee at the Customs Department.
Jordan began six days of full mourning on Sunday, initiating the traditional 40-day Muslim period of respect for the deceased.
Hussein's funeral was set for Monday afternoon, and mourners said they would be on the streets early to pay their last respects. An official statement said the king's coffin would be driven through Amman's streets before his body was laid to rest in the royal cemetery.
Respected and beloved worldwide
More than 30 international leaders were expected to attend the funeral for the longest ruling leader in the Middle East, who had won the respect of world figures as far back as U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
"King Hussein has a very special place in the hearts of the entire international community," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the first to arrive for the funeral.
French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spain's King Juan Carlos paid tribute to the king as well. And leaders from Ireland, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic also flew in for the ceremony.
Britain's Prince Charles briefly sipped Bedouin coffee at the airport with Jordan's Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawnah.
Tarawnah was nearly overwhelmed by the flood of VIP arrivals, occasionally running between the reception hall and planes to keep up with the pace.
He said Jordanians were grieving for their lost king but were confident in his successor. The king's eldest son, Abdullah, sworn in Sunday as Jordan's new monarch, pledged to maintain his father's policies.
In his first royal decree, Abdullah, 37, named as crown prince his half-brother Hamza, 18. Hamza's mother is Hussein's fourth wife, U.S.-born Queen Noor. Jordan radio said the decision was in keeping with Hussein's wishes.
Arab leaders, including Algerian President Liamine Zeroual and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, also arrived to grieve and show support for King Abdullah.
The Saudi prince said he felt "like a brother who has lost a brother" and pledged to support King Abdullah.
Others due in Amman included U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, three former U.S. presidents, and a host of Arab and Western leaders. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to attend, as is Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whose PLO fighters Hussein ousted from Jordan in a civil war in 1970.
U.S. officials said Clinton would meet Abdullah after the funeral to underscore his support for the new monarch. On Sunday the president called the king to express his condolences.
Reuters contributed to this report.
King Hussein could stay on life support for weeks
The Office of King Hussein I of Jordan
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