King Salman of Saudi Arabia has pledged continuity, hours after his accession to the throne following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.
The new king moved swiftly to appoint heirs and ministers, including one prince from the ruling dynasty’s third generation.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died last night, weeks after being admitted to hospital with a lung infection.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in Riyadh, following Friday prayers.
King Abdullah’s burial was conducted in line with the traditions of Wahhabism – the ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam followed by the kingdom – where funerals are austere and simple.
His body was wrapped in a shroud and taken by ambulance to the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh.
Following prayers, which were attended by Gulf heads of state as well as foreign leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, King Abdullah’s body was taken to a public cemetery and buried.
Within hours of acceding to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 79, vowed to maintain the same policies as his predecessors.
“We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” the king said in a speech broadcast on state television.
King Salman’s profile was updated on his official Twitter account, where he wrote: “I ask God to help me succeed in my service of the dear [Saudi] people.”
He named another of King Abdullah’s half-brothers, Muqrin, who is in his late 60s, as the new crown prince.
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, was appointed deputy crown prince, making him second in line to the throne and effectively smoothing the line of succession for years to come.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is a grandson of King Abdulaziz, usually referred to as Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. The crown has so far passed between Ibn Saud’s sons, but few are still alive.
King Salman also appointed his own son, Mohammed bin Salman, as defense minister. Other ministers, including foreign, oil and finance, were kept in place, state TV reported.
King Salman spent 48 years as governor of Riyadh province before becoming crown prince and defense minister.
King Abdullah came to the throne in 2005 but had already been Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader for 10 years because his predecessor, King Fahd, had been debilitated by a stroke.
Abdullah was said to be aged about 90. He had suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years, and King Salman had recently taken on the ailing monarch’s responsibilities.
President Barack Obama paid tribute to King Abdullah as a leader who “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions”. Vice-President Joe Biden said he would lead a delegation to Riyadh to pay respects.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin praised King Abdullah’s “grounded, considered and responsible leadership”, while Iran offered Saudi Arabia its condolences and said its foreign minister would travel to Riyadh for an “official ceremony” on Saturday.
However, human rights groups said Saudi Arabia’s human rights record had been poor under King Abdullah.
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Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, acceded to the throne on the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, on January 23.
King Salman, 79, was governor of Riyadh province for 48 years before becoming defense minister in 2011 and crown prince a year later.
He had already taken on the duties of the king as Abdullah’s health faded.
King Salman is part of an influential faction within the royal family formed of sons and grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz (usually referred to as Ibn Saud) by a favorite wife, Princess Hassa al-Sudairi.
After the deaths of the former king, Fahd, who ruled from 1982 until 2005, and two previous crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, Salman was already the most powerful surviving member of this faction.
As governor of Riyadh, Salman oversaw its transformation from an isolated desert town into a crowded city of skyscrapers, universities and Western fast-food chains.
The post raised Salman’s international profile as he hosted visiting VIPs and envoys and helped secure foreign investment.
As defense minister Salman was head of the Saudi military as it joined the US and other Arab countries in air strikes in Syria in 2014 against the Islamic State militant group.
King Salman’s sons include:
- Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz
- Prince Faisal, the governor of Medina
- Prince Sultan, the head of the tourism authority and a former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot and astronaut.
King Salman is not believed to be as personally interested in political or social reform as his predecessor and his priority will be to maintain stability in Saudi Arabia.
Commentators have drawn attention to King Salman’s reputation as a mediator within the huge Saudi royal family, with its complex network of competing factions.
This task has become more fraught as the second tier of senior political posts in Saudi Arabia – the control of key ministries and governorships – has passed from the sons to grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz.
King Salman’s own Sudairi faction within the family, once a powerful and united group of seven full brothers, has itself developed internal rivalries as the sons of those brothers establish their own power bases.
The king’s health has also been a concern. He is reported to have suffered at least one stroke that has left him with limited movement in his left arm.
Correspondents say King Salman has appeared alert and well-briefed in recent meetings but, given his age, there are concerns about his stamina.
After becoming king, Salman announced that the new crown prince would be his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest surviving son of the late King Abdulaziz.
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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died weeks after he was admitted to hospital, royal officials have announced.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who was said to be aged about 90, had been suffering from a lung infection.
A statement released on January 23 said the king’s 79-year-old half brother, Salman, had become king.
King Abdullah came to the throne in 2005 but had suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years.
King Salman had recently taken on the ailing monarch’s responsibilities.
Before the announcement, Saudi television cut to Koranic verses, which often signifies the death of a senior royal.
The late king’s half brother Muqrin, who is in his late 60s, has been named the new crown prince, the official statement said.
All three are sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, usually referred to as Ibn Saud, who died in 1953.
King Salman called on the royal family’s Allegiance Council to recognize Muqrin as his crown prince and heir.
“His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 01:00 this morning,” the statement said.
Following tradition, King Abdullah will be buried later on Friday in an unmarked grave.
President Barack Obama expressed his personal sympathies and those of the American people, on the death of King Abdullah.
“As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond,” he said.
Vice-President Joe Biden tweeted that he would lead a delegation to Riyadh to pay respects.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II cut short a visit to Davos, Switzerland, to travel to Saudi Arabia, as Jordan’s royal court declared 40 days of mourning.
Abdullah was the 13th of the 37 sons of King Abdulaziz. He is believed to have been born in August 1924 in Riyadh, although there is some dispute about his actual birth date.
In 1962 Abdullah was appointed commander of the Saudi National Guard, where he earned the respect and loyalty of the desert tribes.
When he came to the throne in 2005 he succeeded another half-brother, Fahd.
However, Abdullah had already been Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader for 10 years because his predecessor had been debilitated by a stroke.
Correspondents say King Abdullah was seen as a reformer at home, albeit a slow and steady one.
He allowed mild criticism of his government in the press, and hinted that more women should be allowed to work.
King Salman spent 48 years as governor of Riyadh Province before becoming crown prince and defense minister.
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