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Saturday, July 24, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK

World: Africa

'A visionary, a believer in peace'

Yasser Arafat signs Moroccan condolence book in Gaza City

Tributes to King Hassan II of Morocco, who died of a heart attack on Friday, have poured in from Arab leaders and those involved in the Middle East peace process.

King Hassan is credited with playing a key role as a mediator in the troubled peace process.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said: "He was a visionary, a believer in peace - he supported it, dreamed of it and fought for it.

"I am losing a very dear friend," he added.

US President Bill Clinton described the king as one of the Middle East's "greatest peacemakers."

'Great pain'

Mr Clinton called his death a great loss to the region and French President Jacques Chirac, visiting Nigeria, said he felt great pain at the news. Both Clinton and Chirac said they would be among world leaders at the funeral.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared three days of mourning in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

[ image: King Hassan was welcomed as guest of honour at this year's Bastille Day celebrations]
King Hassan was welcomed as guest of honour at this year's Bastille Day celebrations
A Palestinian cabinet statement said the king had been instrumental in "defending the Palestinian people in establishing the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital".

Palestinian radio noted that the king had been the chairman of the Jerusalem Committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Mr Arafat has deferred a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for three days to allow both men to attend the funeral on Sunday.

Algerian condolences

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria will also be at the funeral - the first visit by an Algerian leader to Morocco since 1989.

Mr Bouteflika, who was due to meet King Hassan within weeks to mend long-standing differences, decreed a three-day mourning period at the loss of a "brother, friend and companion".

In a letter to the new king, the Algerian President said: "I am deeply pained as I write to you for the first time to offer comfort and consolation on the death of King Hassan...Algeria and its people will always remember him with great esteem."

Iran, whose relations with Morocco became strained after the 1979 Islamic revolution, said "There is no doubt that King Hassan played a remarkable role in managing the affairs of Morocco, not to mention his role in north-west Africa in terms of creating a stable climate,"

Tunisia and Libya were among many Arab states which declared three days of national mourning on learning of the king's death.

The Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak described King Hassan's death a great loss for his people, Arabs and the Muslim world.

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