With Hussein laid to rest, Abdullah begins new era
Web posted at: 11:41 p.m. EST (0441 GMT)
AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- With Jordan's beloved King Hussein laid to rest, the country's new ruler has already begun to open a new era for the strategic Middle Eastern country.
King Abdullah, who has indicated that he will continue his father's moderate policies, held 31 meetings with visiting heads of state Monday evening following Hussein's funeral. He planned to meet with tribal leaders on Tuesday as the country continued to observe a state of mourning.
Largely untested outside the military, Abdullah inherited a kingdom burdened with a troubled economy and an undercurrent of dissent among his 4.6 million subjects over peace with Israel. But he has taken office buoyed by a wave of sympathy at the death of his father and by promises of financial aid to steer his kingdom through a testing future.
Western allies pledged support for the 37-year-old Abdullah, whose father ruled Jordan for 46 years. Arab states with a history of distrust of Jordan said they would stick by the new monarch, who was suddenly elevated to crown prince just two weeks before his father died after a long battle with cancer.
"I have great confidence in the young king of Jordan," U.S. President Bill Clinton said Monday after attending the funeral. "He clearly understands his mission."
Clinton's expressions of support were backed by U.S. efforts to shore up Jordan's beleaguered economy. The White House was pushing to expedite $300 million in proposed aid and is lending its support for a substantial rescheduling of Jordan's national debt.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain was looking at ways of providing economic and military help, and Japan, mired in its own deep recession, said it would continue its economic support for Jordan.
Support from the Arab world came in forms that were equally valuable to Abdullah, even if they were less tangible.
Syrian President Hafez Assad, an old guard leader who has long viewed Jordan with suspicion, made a surprise visit to pay homage to the monarch with whom he had feuded for decades.
Assad was among those who had private talks with King Abdullah. His presence in Amman was seen by diplomats in Damascus as an attempt to open a new chapter in relations with Jordan under its new king.
More support came from Kuwait and from Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Gulf Arab state. Both countries had turned against Jordan over its refusal to join the international coalition arrayed against Iraq following President Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... was and will continue to stand by Jordan with all its potential and capabilities. ... The kingdom will stand by you strongly and steadily in good and bad times," Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said.
The day's events played out against a tableau of haunting images -- a riderless white stallion, a sea of sodden black flags, a pale queen in tears and a simple white burial shroud -- as Hussein was buried under a gray-veiled sky.
Dignitaries and leaders from all over the world lionized the king, a testament to the enormous stature that belied Hussein's status as the monarch of a small and unassuming desert kingdom who preached peace in a turbulent region.
The funeral produced some stunning scenes of reconciliation, including a handshake between a radical Palestinian guerrilla leader and Israeli President Ezer Weizman. Nayef Hawatmeh's guerrillas commandeered a school in Maalot in 1974, a hostage operation that killed 24 Israelis.
The day was dominated by extraordinary images. Ordinary Jordanians viewed Hussein more as a father than a monarch, and wept from the heart. Grief-stricken, they showered his coffin with flowers. Police had to strain to hold back surging crowds -- estimated at 800,000 people -- seeking a final glimpse of the king.
Echoing the poignancy of the proceedings was the appearance of the king's riderless white stallion and Noor, the American-born queen, glimpsed briefly in the palace doorway as she watched her husband's casket borne off for a solemn procession through Amman, his capital.
The five-hour funeral was also the occasion for some delicate diplomatic moments, drawing sworn enemies like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Assad. The two stayed well apart, but even so, their presence at the same event was unprecedented.
Wrapped in a simple shroud that harkened to the austere ways of his desert ancestors, Hussein's body was lowered into a grave in the royal cemetery under the somber gaze of his soldier son and heir Abdullah, crowned king upon his father's death Sunday from cancer at age 63.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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