The passing of King Hussein: Leaders to gather at funeral

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The Independent Online
THE FUNERAL of King Hussein of Jordan will be the largest gathering of heads of state at a funeral since the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. More than 40 world leaders are expected to attend the funeral, including the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Foreign Office last night said no decision had been taken on whether Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, would attend.

Security in the Middle Eastern state is already being tightened, as the funeral comes amid continuing tension between the Western powers and Iraq and a call from the exiled Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden, for Muslims to attack US and British citizens.

Officially, no arrangements will be made for the funeral until the King has been formally pronounced dead but a huge security operation was already discreetly under way yesterday, with the Jordanian intelligence services taking control of anti-terror arrangements. Unlike the assassination of Mr Rabin - where accusations were made that the highly visible security was in reality quite lax - the protracted death of King Hussein is giving security forces in Amman and those of visiting heads of state valuable time in which to liaise. The CIA and MI6 are among those forces which are thought to be in touch with their Jordanian colleagues.

Traditionally a Muslim funeral takes place as soon as possible after the person's death, but in the case of King Hussein the enormous security arrangements and complicated logistics of bringing so many heads of state together is expected to delay the burial.

World leaders attending will almost certainly include Bill Clinton, the US President, Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, along with Nelson Mandela, the South African President.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is expected to attend, as he did the funeral of Mr Rabin, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has reportedly said he wishes to attend. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary- General, will travel to Amman via London.

It is thought unlikely that either President Hafez Assad of Syria or Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, will attend, though the Labour MP Tam Dalyell said the funeral would present the "ideal opportunity" to start a dialogue with any Iraqi officials who did go to the funeral.

The Jordanian Embassy in London said that protocol dictated when arrangements would be made. "We are waiting for news that the King is confirmed to be dead. As there has not been any official indication from Jordan we must wait for further instructions," said a spokeswoman for the embassy.