Morocco in final homage to Hassan

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The Independent Online
THEY HAD been gathering for hours, lining the streets of their modern capital, pressing desperately against the metal barriers for one last glimpse of the king. Suddenly, from a turn in the road, the funeral cortege appeared and the surging crowd erupted into hysteria. The noise was deafening. King Hassan II of Morocco was laid to rest yesterday in the mausoleum in Rabat that he had built himself to honour and bury his father, King Mohammed V.

Yesterday's six-hour state ceremony, attended by a host of world leaders, was led by Hassan's son, Sidi Mohammed, who was enthroned on Friday evening following his father's death. "He is our father. He is gone," cried one man in the crowd, his eyes fiery as he flung himself against the barricades only to be restrained by police. Around him crying people shook photographs and newspaper pictures of the man who been the Arab world's longest reigning monarch.

It was difficult to measure the nature of the mourning. There was genuine grief for a man who had led his country for 38 years through a series of crises and had gradually become a key player in the Arab world. But there was a feeling, too, that some people had come quite simply because of the occasion. Although some had to be pulled from the crowd, having fainted in the exertion of mourning, at times- with men women and children sprawled out on the grass beneath Rabat's shady trees - the funeral assumed the feel of a family day out.

The world leaders also managed to give it a dual purpose, using the opportunity to advance the Middle East peace process. The United States President, Bill Clinton, held a meeting with the new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat - a meeting that a White House spokesman called "animated". Afterwards Mr Clinton held a private meeting with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. Then, in the first contact between the leaders of Israel and Algeria, Mr Barak met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who assured him that Algiers supported his Middle East peace moves.

Meanwhile, the people of Morocco had come in their hundreds of thousands - from sophisticated Casablanca to the medieval walled city of Fez. "People have come because they want to say goodbye," said Kadija Mousa, whose house was just a few yards from the route of the procession. "He has been all right and he has been the king for such a long time."

The funeral procession had begun at the royal palace, where King Hassan had lain since Friday, and where the world leaders had paid their respects. Britain was represented by Prince Charles and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary.

King Hassan's coffin, draped in a heavy green cloth embroidered with gold koranic inscriptions, was carried on a simple military truck and attended by a military guard in white uniforms. It was led by an empty carriage drawn by four white horses. Behind walked the world leaders, dark-suited beneath the North African sun. The cortege travelled two miles through the thronging streets, first heading slowly through the city's main boulevard, also named after King Hassan's father, before heading towards the green-roofed mausoleum.Here, in a private ceremony from which even the world leaders were excluded, King Hassan was buried next to his father.

People will remember yesterday's crowds and those who kept referring to King Hassan as "our father, the father of Morocco". But even in Rabat there were people who admitted it was not that simple. King Hassan made steps to improve democracy, installing an opposition politician as prime minister. But he was also criticised for human rights abuses and for the number of people who "disappeared".

On the streets of the capital, the cortege continued on its slow journey through the city - and the crowds kept screaming.