Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies

AFP, RIYADH

Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 1

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died yesterday and was replaced by his half-brother Salman as the absolute ruler of the world’s top oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.

Abdullah, believed to be about 90, died at 1am, the royal court said in a statement, expressing its “great sadness and mourning.”

Salman, 79, had been Saudi Arabian minister of defense and previously governor of Riyadh.

Another half-brother of the late monarch, Moqren, was named the new crown prince.

Abdullah was to be buried later yesterday following afternoon prayers, and citizens would be invited to pledge allegiance to the new monarch and the crown prince at the royal palace, the statement said.

The royal court did not disclose the cause of Abdullah’s death, but he was hospitalized last month because of pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a tube.

Under Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, Saudi Arabia has been a key ally of Washington in the Arab world, most recently joining the US-led coalition to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

US President Barack Obama was quick to pay tribute to Abdullah as a valued ally.

“As our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship,” Obama said in a written statement after the monarch’s death.

“The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy,” he said.

Abdullah had a shrewd grasp of regional politics.

Wary of the rising influence of extremist movements, Saudi Arabia has been a generous supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since the army’s ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It has also played a key role in supporting opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, allowing US troops to use its territory to train rebel fighters.

Salman is widely expected to follow closely in Abdullah’s footsteps, in foreign and energy policy as well as in making moderate reforms to the deeply conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is still strongly criticized over its human rights record, including the imprisonment of dissidents. It is also the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.