King Hussein flies home as his health deteriorates fast

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KING HUSSEIN was returning home to Jordan in critical condition last night after the failure of a second bone-marrow transplant operation in the United States on Tuesday.

A statement issued by his private physician said the 63-year-old monarch's condition "has become critical due to the failure of the function of internal organs". The King has been receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, since 25 January for a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer.

One Jordanian official said King Hussein would be taken on arrival at the airport this morning to an Amman military hospital, known as the King Hussein Medical City, for close medical supervision because his health was deteriorating.

"His body has apparently refused the bone cells taken from his family members and transplanted into his body," the official said.

King Hussein had returned for more treatment in the US last month only hours after naming his eldest son, 37-year-old Prince Abdullah, as his successor. Abdullah replaced King Hussein's brother, Hassan, 51, who had been crown prince for 34 years.

It emerged yesterday that at the height of the battle for the succession, Prince Hassan's telephone calls were being bugged by the Jordanian security services.

The bugging was said to have started four months ago, when King Hussein was undergoing chemotherapy in America. Information from the telephone tapping was passed to the King.

In late January, when he returned to Jordan and switched the succession, the King accused Prince Hassan of meddling with senior appointments in the army and spreading smears against Queen Noor and her children.

The allegation that Prince Hassan's telephone calls were being intercepted while he was nominally ruling Jordan suggests that the rift within the royal family went far deeper than was hitherto realised. It would also demonstrate how far he was from controlling the real levers of power.

Samir Battikhi, the head of Jordanian intelligence, paid several visits to the Mayo Clinic to report on Prince Hassan's behaviour as regent during the King's stay there.

A sign of the anger felt by Prince Hassan over his dismissal as heir to the throne has come in a report in the al-Bayan newspaper that he plans to go into permanent exile in London.

It says that when the King told him of his decision he declared: "Shoot me if you think that I was unfaithful."

King Hussein clearly felt resentment at what he saw as Prince Hassan's attempts to act like a king before his own death. In a letter altering the succession, the monarch wrote bitterly of how his "small family was offended by slanders and falsehoods, and I refer here to my wife and children".

The King was particularly concerned about "the politicisation and fragmentation of the army" under Prince Hassan. He complained: "What made me sleepless for the first time in my life is that I was asking myself, `Why is there insistence on change in the army?'" The King cancelled orders for the retirement of some officers and the promotion of others.

In fact Prince Hassan's motives for trying to secure his position with the army may have been rather different. One Jordanian observer said: "Towards the end of last year, the White House told two Israeli journalists the King was dying. Hassan believed what they wrote."

The former crown prince apparently discounted more optimistic reports of his brother's health and decided to make prudent changes in the military establishment in order to secure a smooth succession.

Prince Hassan may not have realised how far his relations with his brother had deteriorated. Intelligent, industrious and highly educated, he is also a humorous man. Knowing that it was conventional wisdom among Jordanians that he had no support among the army, the people, the Jordanian tribes or the Palestinians, who make up more than half the population, he joked: "It seems the only people who like me are Filipina maids and Armenian hairdressers."

A year ago, when there were serious riots in Ma'an, in southern Jordan, while Prince Hassan was out of the country, he is reported to have told the King with a laugh: "I leave the country for three days and look what happens."

He is once said to have described the King to his face as "your royal irrelevancy".

A Jordanian analyst said: "The King was sensitive to the suggestion that he was froth, while his brother was substance."

Jokes which might have been acceptable to the King when he was in good health and in Amman, might have looked more menacing when related second hand to a sick man undergoing treatment thousands of miles away.