Foreign dignitaries of relatively low rank were expected to far outnumber the heads of state and government at the funeral Tuesday of Syrian president Hafez Assad.
It will be a far cry from the dozens of monarchs, presidents and prime ministers who flocked to the funeral of King Hussein in neighboring Jordan in February last year.
With the exception of French President Jacques Chirac, no western ruler had announced late Sunday that he or she would be heading for Assad's home village of Kerdaha in northwest Syria for the ceremony.
In the Arab world only four heads of state were definitely going: Jordan's King Abdullah II, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud and the emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah.
Question marks still hung over Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, while others, including Egypt, had made no decision.
If Khatami does not go Iran will send Vice President Hassan Habibi, while Iraq, governed by a rival branch of the Baath party, will send Vice President Taha Mohieddin Maaruf, the highest-ranking Iraqi official to visit Syria in two decades.
The only prime minister on the list by late Sunday was Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh.
Ministerial level participants will include US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Germany's Joschka Fischer, his South African counterpart Noksazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Portugal's Deputy Prime Minister Armando Vera.
Russia, Italy and Austria will be represented by their parliamentary heads, respectively Gennady Selezynov, Nicola Mancino and Heinz Fischer – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)