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Jordan looks ahead in princely fashion; Well-wishers gather to greet king's son as the new successor


AMMAN, Jordan -- Hundreds of well-wishers gathered to greet Jordan's new Crown Prince Abdullah yesterday, even as his father was back in an American hospital undergoing treatment for cancer.

The turnout signified a collective embrace of King Hussein's decision to name his eldest son to replace the monarch's brother, Prince Hassan, who had held the post for 33 years.

Among yesterday's well-wishers was the ousted crown prince.

"May you be successful, God willing," a smiling Prince Hassan told his nephew.

It was a ceremony befitting the future monarch of this desert kingdom.

Crown Prince Abdullah, an army major general who wore a conservative blue suit for the occasion, presided over an honor guard of Bedouin tribesmen in red-and-white checked headdresses before the first guests arrived.

Then, standing before the gold-rimmed throne occupied by his 63-year-old father for nearly half a century, the stocky, 36-year-old regent greeted a line of Jordanian lawmakers, diplomats, Middle East dignitaries, government officials, workers and Muslim and Christian clerics. He warmly extended his hand to his guests, received their kisses in the traditional Arab greeting, chatted amicably and smiled for hours on end.

So many people wanted to pay their respects that the palace scheduled another ceremony for today.

Also today, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will offer her congratulations and U.S. support to the crown prince, who heads Jordan's elite Special Forces but, unlike his uncle, has little experience in foreign relations.

Jordan is a key U.S. ally in the region, and receives more than $100 million in foreign and military aid annually from the United States.

"The secretary of state will meet with Crown Prince Abdullah to express our friendship for him and the Jordanian people and consult on bilateral relations and regional issues," said James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman.

Albright, who was passing through the region, decided to visit the crown prince after consulting with aides to the king, who abruptly returned Tuesday to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., suffering a relapse of lymphatic cancer. A bone marrow transplant was not successful and King Hussein may have to undergo a second one.

"He is receiving treatment for a relapse of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His majesty immediately began treatment upon arriving at the Mayo Clinic," said a statement issued on behalf of the king's doctors.

The hospital said King Hussein was in "stable condition." The king only returned to his country last week after spending six months undergoing treatment for the disease and was believed to have overcome his latest illness.

He had surgery at Mayo in 1992 to remove cancer from his ureter and left kidney. Last April, a benign growth was removed from from his prostate.

Crown Prince Abdullah tried to assure visitors that his father was holding his own under difficult circumstances. "He's fine, thank God," the prince told those who asked about his father's condition.

On the day of his return, the king hinted that changes in the monarchy were forthcoming. Reports of infighting among the royal family appeared in the foreign media. Then, Tuesday, the king told his people that Prince Hassan would no longer be next in line to the throne.

He announced the succession change in a letter uncharacteristically critical of his 51-year-old brother. The king accused those around Prince Hassan of meddling in army affairs and other government functions and engaging in a campaign of slander against the monarch's wife, American-born Queen Noor, and his children.

The manner in which the king dismissed Prince Hassan, regarded as a competent, serious and reform-minded regent, raised questions about whether the royal family would put aside their differences and unite behind the new crown prince.

Prince Abdullah and two of his brothers visited their uncle Tuesday, and yesterday in the middle of the welcoming ceremony the ousted crown prince arrived.

The return of his father's cancer may mean Crown Prince Abdullah has little time to prepare for the role ahead of him. He is 18 years older than his father was when he assumed the throne. But the Jordan of today is vastly different from the kingdom that King Hussein inherited 47 years ago.

This is a country whose earliest residents hailed from Bedouin tribes -- though today they comprise but 1 percent of the population. People here still talk in terms of clan and family; the king's subjects refer to him as their father.

"Prince Abdullah can control, but the father is the master. And he is the father not just for Jordan, but for the whole Middle East," said Mohammed Jaradat, 35, a truck driver.

Jordan has 4.4 million people, but the majority are of Palestinian ancestry. King Hussein wants to see his country progress as a democracy and has ruled in many ways as a benevolent monarch.

But as Jordanians seek democratic reforms and accountability in their government, King Hussein's heir may find it more difficult to rule than his father has.

"We were hoping the next period would be one of reform, not the status quo," said one political observer.

In his letter dismissing his brother, King Hussein criticized the prince's behavior while the king was hospitalized in the United States. King Hussein intimated that a crown prince should take a lower profile.

"I have failed in my advice to you and our family," King Hussein wrote to his brother, "to stop asking the media to focus on persons instead of focusing on content and on those who we should celebrate, such as graduates and creative people."

Fahed el Fanek, an economist and political observer, said the king's letter suggests that he wants a "crown prince who would be in the background and not be visible and take responsibility."

"We need a constitutional king who would make decision through his government ministers," said Fanek. "King Hussein was an exception."

Among those offering prayers for the king was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I am praying now for the welfare of King Hussein. I am praying for a miracle," Netanyahu said in a speech to the Jewish women's organization Hadassah.

King Hussein is very popular among Israelis, though he and Netanyahu have differed over the pace of peace in the Middle East.

King Hussein had forged a "magnificent friendship" with Israel, Netanyahu said.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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