Riyadh: World leaders headed to Saudi Arabia on Saturday to offer condolences following the death of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdualziz Al Saud, with US President Barack Obama cutting short a trip to India to pay respects.
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Obama had been scheduled to visit the Taj Mahal but cancelled that following the death of King Abdullah and will travel to Riyadh on Tuesday to meet his successor the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdualziz Al Saud, the White House said. Other dignitaries arrived in Riyadh on Saturday to pay respects, including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on a rare visit to the regional rival.
Cameron, Hollande expected British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles and French President Francois Hollande were among other leaders expected to fly in to offer condolences.
On behalf of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Oman’s Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, attended the funeral held at Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque on Friday.
Other Gulf leaders as well as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, were also among those who attended the traditionally simple funeral.
Africa was also represented, with Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and other leaders from the continent arrived on Saturday to pay respects. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak arrived later to deliver condolences, as did Iraqi President Fuad Masum. On Friday evening hundreds of Saudis queued to enter a royal palace where they rubbed cheeks and kissed the hands of their new leaders, in a symbolic
pledge of allegiance. Mourning ceremonies were planned for Saturday and Sunday evenings at another palace, official media said.
Obama paid tribute to Abdullah as a “valued” ally as the State Department indicated cooperation between Washington and Riyadh would continue. Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdualziz Al Saud pledged to keep the kingdom on a steady course and moved to cement his hold on power.
In his first public statement as king, Salman, 79, vowed to “remain, with God’s strength, attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment”.
He called for “unity and solidarity” among Muslims and vowed to work in “the defence of the causes of our nation”.
Moving to clear uncertainty over the transition to the next generation, he named his nephew, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as second in line to the throne behind Crown Prince Maqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 69.
That helps to solidify control by his Sudayri branch of the royal family. Salman also appointed one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed, as defence minister of the world’s leading oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.
“In spite of all the earlier articles and fears surrounding the succession, the Saudi royal family handled the succession without even a hint of crisis, and laid the ground work for the future,” wrote Anthony Cordesman, of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
Since the death in 1953 of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the throne has passed systematically from one of his sons to another. Ali Al Naimi remains the kingdom’s oil minister, and the International Energy Agency’s chief economist said he did not foresee major policy shifts. “I expect and hope that they will continue to be a stabilisation factor in the oil markets,”Fatih Birol told AFP.
Tehran offered its condolences and dispatched Zarif. Egypt declared seven days of official mourning and sent its prime minister to the funeral. Saudi Arabia has been a generous supporter of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi since the army ousted the then president Mohamed Morsi.