World Leaders Join Morocco to Mourn King
RABAT, Morocco -- As Moroccans buried their beloved King Hassan II on Sunday, they were joined in their grief by a large turnout of world leaders who braved a hot Mediterranean sun to march behind the late monarch's casket in tribute to his many contributions to Middle East peacemaking.
As the tumultuous funeral procession slowly wended through Rabat's broad, palm-lined boulevard and narrow streets, about 2 million Moroccans turned out to bid their monarch farewell.
Their rhythmic chants of prayers and verses from the Koran reverberated in a deafening roar across the seaside capital. Hassan is the only king most of the nation's 29 million people have known.
Along the five-kilometer funeral procession, from the green-tiled royal palace to the hilltop Mohammed V mausoleum, the throng of humanity at times threatened to engulf U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac, who led marchers. But they pressed on with grim determination.
Both before the funeral and after the burial, Clinton took advantage of the extraordinary gathering of world leaders to meet individually with many of them, although mostly for only brief visits. Among those he met with, both at the royal palace and then at the mausoleum, included Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The presence of a top-level Israeli delegation served to underline the Israeli drive to improve its relations with the region's Arab and Islamic states.
A historic meeting between Barak and the president of Algeria was followed by the first three-way contact among Barak, Clinton and Arafat.
"We attach high hopes on your peace plan,'' Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was overheard saying to Barak in what was reportedly the first conversation between an Algerian president and an Israeli leader. "We are ready to contribute whenever asked.''
Israel and Algeria, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian drive for an independent state, are technically at war. But the two countries' delegations spied each other in an open courtyard at the royal palace, approached, and Barak and Bouteflika chatted for about seven minutes, according to reporters who were present.
Barak told Israeli television that the discussion with Bouteflika was primarily one of courtesy, but "not valueless in the path of making changes in the Middle East towards a future of dialogue.''
A major focus of Clinton's encounters was the peace process, according to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who noted that the president also brought Barak together with Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah, the crown prince of Kuwait, for their first meeting.
Throughout the day, the leaders mingled casually with one another in a variety of settings. At one point, Barak and Mubarak happened upon one another in the marbled courtyard of the royal palace and gave one another a bear hug.
There had been speculation Barak would meet Syria's President Hafez Assad at the funeral, but Assad decided, apparently at the last minute, not to come, sending instead Vice President Mohammed Zuhair Masharqa.
Barak and Arafat met formally on July 11 and were to hold a concrete work session Saturday, but it was postponed and rescheduled for Tuesday so that both leaders could attend the funeral.
Clinton met with Arafat late Sunday before returning to Washington, offering the Palestinian leader details of his meeting last week with the new Israeli prime minister, administration aides. said
On Sunday, Barak also met with Hassan's son and successor, King Mohammed, who assumed the throne hours after his father's death Friday at age 70, with Jordanian King Abdullah II and with officials from Gulf Arab states - everyone but the Syrians.
Israel sent a top-level delegation to the funeral to salute Hassan's contribution to peace in the region during his 38-year reign and also because of Israel's huge Moroccan-born community. Hassan was seen as a rare leader in this region who was friendly to the Jewish people. Several senior Israeli officials are of Moroccan-Jewish ancestry.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in a eulogy published Sunday, credited Hassan with fostering some of the earliest contacts between Israel and Arabs, including meetings that were key to the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s.
During Sunday's funeral, the grief of the Moroccan people was at times overwhelming. Legions of security agents from a variety of nations struggled mightily to hold back the crowd, often linking arms for support.