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Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi has become the first woman politician elected in Saudi Arabia.

She has won a seat on a municipal council for the first time in the country, after the kingdom lifted its ban on women taking part in elections.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi won a seat in Mecca province in December 12 vote, the electoral commission said.

The election was the first where women were allowed to vote and stand as candidates, and is being viewed as a landmark in the conservative kingdom.

Saudi women still face many curbs in public life, including driving.First Saudi woman elected

A total of 978 women registered as candidates, alongside 5,938 men.

Officials said about 130,000 women had registered to vote in yesterday’s poll, compared with 1.35 million men.

The disparity was attributed by female voters to bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of transport, the AFP says.

Female candidates were also not allowed to address male voters directly during campaigning. Turnout was high, state media reported.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi won a seat on the council in Madrakah in Mecca province, the president of the election commission, Osama al-Bar, told the official SPA news agency.

She was running against seven men and two women, Osam al-Bar was quoted as saying.

Elections of any kind are rare in the Saudi kingdom – December 12, 2015 was only the third time in history that Saudis had gone to the polls.

There were no elections in the 40 years between 1965 and 2005.

The decision to allow women to take part was taken by the late King Abdullah and is seen as a key part of his legacy.

In announcing the reforms, King Abdullah said women in Saudi Arabia “have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice”.

Before he died in January, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the country’s top advisory Shura Council.

There were 2,100 council seats available in December 12 vote. An additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval from the king.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has announced a major cabinet reshuffle, a week after he acceded to the throne following King Abdullah’s death.

The chief of intelligence and the head of the national Security Council have both been replaced.

Other top officials, including the ministers of defense, oil, and foreign affairs, have kept their jobs.

The governor of Mecca and the governor of the capital Riyadh were replaced as were several senior religious officials.Kin Salman of Saudi Arabia announces new cabinet

King Salman – who was a half-brother of the late King Abdullah – also gave a bonus of two months’ salary to all Saudi state employees and military personnel. Pensioners and students received similar bonuses.

The changes were announced in 30 royal decrees.

“Dear people: You deserve more and whatever I do will not be able to give you what you deserve,” King Salman said later on his Twitter account.

The king asked citizens to “not forget me in your prayers”.

The Saudi Press Agency said King Salman had relieved intelligence chief Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud of his post.

General Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Humaidan becomes the new intelligence chief, with cabinet rank.

A nephew of the late king, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was removed from his posts as secretary general of the National Security Council and adviser to the king.

Two of King Abdullah’s sons were also removed – Prince Mishaal, governor of the Mecca region, and Prince Turki, who governed the capital Riyadh.

The Oil Minister, Ali al-Naimi, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf remain in the cabinet.

Another of King Abdullah’s sons, Prince Mutaib, stays as minister of the National Guard.

King Salman also replaced several senior religious officials, removing two clerics regarded as comparative liberals who headed the Justice Ministry and Religious Police.

Hours after King Abdullah died on January 23, Salman appointed one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as defense minister.

He named another of King Abdullah’s half-brothers, Prince 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.

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia has appointed his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince.

The powerful interior minister has become the second in line to the throne after Crown Prince Muqrin.

The announcement of the deputy crown prince’s appointment on January 23, following the death of King Abdullah, quiets further speculation over future succession in the kingdom. It paves the way for the deputy crown prince to become the first grandson of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to succeed to the throne.

Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, age 69, is next in line after King Salman.

The moves by Saudi Arabia’s new king to ease the transition of power came just hours before King Abdullah’s surviving sons carried their father’s shrouded remains on a pallet atop their shoulders to his grave at Oud Cemetery in the capital Riyadh.

In keeping with the traditions of Wahhabi strand of Sunni Islam, which frowns on idolizing the dead and dramatic public expressions of grief, members of the royal family and other mourners were somber and restrained, and the grave was unmarked.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, has been credited as the main force behind the eradication of al-Qaeda operatives inside Saudi Arabia when they waged a campaign to destabilize the kingdom between 2003 and 2006. He was appointed interior minister in November 2012.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Also on January 23, King Salman’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was named defense minister, a position the new king held until he succeeded his half-brother, King Abdullah.

In addition, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, age 34, was designated chief of the royal court, replacing Khaled Al Tuwaijri, who was removed from all his posts.

Khaled Al Tuwaijri was an influential adviser to King Abdullah.

The appointments signal the intention of the new Saudi leader to continue the government’s drive to curb dissent at home and Islamist and anti-Sunni forces abroad.

In the kingdom, they also reassert the eminence of the Sudairi Seven, made up of the seven sons of the kingdom’s founder and Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi, one of his wives.

King Abdullah’s sons retained their positions, but the new royal appointments mark a reversal of the late king’s practice of elevating his sons and allies to senior positions.

All other current ministers in the cabinet, including the oil minister Ali al-Naimi, will keep their positions, King Salman said in another royal decree.

The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince resolves, at least for the moment, some of the questions that shadowed King Abdullah’s waning years. In particular, it sets forth a path for the transfer of power from the sons of the kingdom’s founder to his grandsons.

Under Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, unlike most other monarchies, the throne doesn’t pass automatically from parent to eldest child upon the death or abdication of the monarch. Saudi law stipulates only that the throne passes to the “most upright” of the sons and grandsons of the kingdom’s founder.

In 2006, the Saudi royal family established a panel designed to help future kings choose their heirs. King Abdullah and his successor, however, were excluded from its mandate.

Under the provisions of the so-called Allegiance Committee, the king’s choice for crown prince is subject to a vote by the panel. If the committee disapproves of the king’s selection, it offers an alternative candidate. If the two sides still fail to agree, the committee votes on one of the two nominees.

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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.King Salman of Saudi Arabia

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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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that extremists could attack Europe and the US if there is not a strong international response to terrorism after the Islamic State (ISIS) seized a wide territory across Iraq and Syria.

While not mentioning any terrorist groups by name, King Abdullah‘s statement appeared aimed at drawing Washington and NATO forces into a wider fight against ISIS and its supporters in the region. Saudi Arabia openly backs rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, but is concerned that the breakaway al-Qaeda group could also turn those very same weapons on the kingdom.

“I am certain that after a month they will reach Europe and, after another month, America,” King Abdullah said at a reception for foreign ambassadors on August 29.

“These terrorists do not know the name of humanity and you have witnessed them severing heads and giving them to children to walk with in the street,” the king said, urging the ambassadors to relay his message directly to their heads of state.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that extremists could attack Europe and the US if there is not a strong international response to terrorism

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that extremists could attack Europe and the US if there is not a strong international response to terrorism (photo Getty Images)

ISIS has been fighting moderate rebels, other extremists and Assad’s forces in Syria for nearly three years. Iraq has faced an onslaught by the Sunni extremists and their supporters since early this year, and the country continues to be roiled by instability.

While providing arms and support to Sunni militants in Syria, Saudi Arabia has denied directly funding or backing the Islamic State group.

British officials raised the country’s terror threat level on August 29 to “severe,” its second-highest level, because of developments in Iraq and Syria.

The White House has said it does not expect the US to bump up its terrorism threat warning level.

Saudi Arabia, a major US ally in the region, has taken an increasingly active role in criticizing the ISIS group. Earlier this month, the country’s top cleric described the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda as Islam’s No. 1 enemy and said that Muslims have been their first victims. State-backed Saudi clerics who once openly called on citizens to fight in Syria can now face steep punishment and the kingdom has threatened to imprison its citizens who fight in Syria and Iraq.

A decade ago, al-Qaeda militants launched a string of attacks in Saudi Arabia aimed at toppling the monarchy. Saudi officials responded with a massive crackdown that saw many flee to neighboring Yemen. In the time since, the kingdom has not seen any massive attacks, though it has imprisoned suspected militants and sentenced others to death.

President Barack Obama is ending his Middle East tour with a trip to the famous ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

The diplomatic part of his visit ended on Friday when he met King Abdullah and pledged an additional $200 million to help Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Correspondents say Barack Obama’s four-day visit has yielded mixed results.

The US president brokered an Israeli rapprochement with Turkey but there was little progress on the Palestinian issue.

Barack Obama’s Marine One helicopter touched down near Petra after an hour-long flight from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The site of the ancient city, which is carved into rose-red stone, dates back 2,000 years and is Jordan’s top tourist attraction, drawing more than half a million visitors each year.

President Barack Obama is ending his Middle East tour with a trip to the famous ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan

President Barack Obama is ending his Middle East tour with a trip to the famous ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan

Most of Barack Obama’s time in the Middle East was spent in Israel where he held several meetings with PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

A highlight of the visit came when Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for “any errors that could have led to loss of life” during the 2010 commando raid on an aid flotilla that tried to breach the Gaza blockade.

Benjamin Netanyahu also agreed to compensate the families of the nine Turkish activists who were killed.

Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said he had accepted the apology, “in the name of the Turkish people”.

Barack Obama also briefly visited Ramallah in the West Bank to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

The US president urged Palestinians to drop their demands for a freeze in Israeli settlement-building as a precondition for peace talks.

However, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leader had told Barack Obama the precondition remained in place.

Speaking to an audience of young Israelis in Jerusalem, Barack Obama praised Jewish nationhood before turning the argument around by stressing the need for Palestinians to share these same values of self-determination and justice.

“It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day,” Barack Obama said.

President Barack Obama is due to return to Washington later on Saturday.

IKEA has said it regrets that images of women are missing from the Saudi version of its catalogue.

Women are clearly present in corresponding images in the firm’s English-language catalogue.

The Swedish furniture company said “excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values”.

It attributed the gaffe to the fact its Saudi operation is run by a franchisee.

IKEA Saudi catalogue removes women from its pages

IKEA Saudi catalogue removes women from its pages

Several images in the catalogue, published on IKEA’s Saudi website, show women completely absent in a number of promotional scenes.

The same images in other versions of the catalogue include women.

IKEA said it was reviewing its “routines” in response to the issue.

“We support the fundamental human rights of all people and we do not accept any kind of discrimination,” the company said in a statement.

Islamic Sharia law is applied strictly in Saudi Arabia, where the ruling Al Saud family espouses a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism.

Women live under various restrictions, including no right to drive, and must be covered whenever they are outside the home.

Saudi leader King Abdullah is seen as trying to cautiously introduce reforms, some aimed at loosening restrictions on women’s right to vote.

IKEA, which posted net profits of almost 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) last year, operates three branches in Saudi Arabia.

 

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Three members of the Jordanian Paralympian squad facing sex charges have been pulled out of this year’s Paralympic Games.

Faisal Hammash, Omar Sami Qaradhi and Motaz Al-Junadi are charged with sex offences in Antrim.

LOCOG said they had been told by the Jordanian National Paralympic Committee that they would not be entering the athletes into the games.

They said the athletes had returned to Jordan.

On Wednesday, a court in Coleraine, County Londonderry, heard that The King of Jordan has taken a personal interest in the case.

A Jordanian embassy official offered bail sureties at the hearing.

Bail of £500 ($793) was granted with a surety of £5,000 ($7,937) from the Jordanian government for each defendant.

Faisal Hammash, Omar Sami Qaradhi and Motaz Al-Junadi are charged with sex offences in Antrim

Faisal Hammash, Omar Sami Qaradhi and Motaz Al-Junadi are charged with sex offences in Antrim

The case had been adjourned while the judge considered the bail applications.

The squad is one of several international teams using the Antrim Forum sports complex as a training base in advance of the Games which begin in London next week.

The three men, two of whom compete in wheelchairs, are all members of the Jordanian Paralympics power-lifting team.

Faisal Hammash, 35, faces two counts of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.

Omar Sami Qaradhi, 31, is charged with three counts of sexual assault and one of voyeurism. At least two of the assaults were against children.

Motaz Al-Junadi, 45, faces one charge of sexual assault. All the offences took place between 16 and 20 August.

King Abdullah’s interest in the case was reported by one of his government officials who promised to return the accused men to Coleraine Court following the games if bail was granted.

The Jordanian Embassy in London released a statement saying it regretted the incidents that had led to the charges of the three members of the paralympic team.

“In line with its duties towards its citizens, the embassy provided direct consular support to the three members of the team charged with the offences,” it said.

“A senior diplomat from the embassy attended the hearings this morning at the Magistrates Court in Antrim, and posted bail for the three sportsmen pending their reappearance in Belfast for their trial in October.

“The embassy wishes to further express its appreciation to the courts for promptly appointing a defence lawyer for the three men and facilitating its Consular services to its citizens.

“The embassy in London wishes to reassure the courts of its continued cooperation and maintains utmost respect for the due process of the law.”

 

Saudi Arabia has decided to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time.

A statement from the Saudi Embassy in London says the country’s Olympic Committee will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify”.

The decision will end recent speculation as to whether the entire Saudi team could have been disqualified on grounds of gender discrimination.

The public participation of women in sport is still fiercely opposed by many Saudi religious conservatives.

There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in the country.

Saudi officials say that with the Games now just a few weeks away, the only female competitor at Olympic standard is showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas.

But they added that there may be scope for others to compete and that if successful they would be dressed “to preserve their dignity”.

Saudi Arabia has decided to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time

Saudi Arabia has decided to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time

In practice this is likely to mean modest, loose-fitting garments and “a sports hijab”, a scarf covering the hair but not the face.

For the desert kingdom, the decision to allow women to compete in the Olympics is a huge step, overturning deep-rooted opposition from those opposed to any public role for women.

As recently as April, the indications were that Saudi Arabia’s rulers would accede to the sensitivities of the religious conservatives and maintain the ban on allowing women to take part.

But for the past six weeks there have been intense, behind-the-scenes discussions led by King Abdullah, who has long been pushing for women to play a more active role in Saudi society.

In secret meetings in Jeddah, officials say a consensus was reached in mid-June between the king, the crown prince, the foreign minister, the leading religious cleric, the grand mufti and others, to overturn the ban.

An announcement was ready to be made but then had to be delayed as the country marked the sudden death of Crown Prince Nayef.

“It’s very sensitive,” said a senior Saudi official.

“King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow.

“For example, he allowed the participation of women in the Shura council [an advisory body] so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it’s not isolated.”

The official acknowledged that to refuse to let women take part would have looked bad on the international stage.

“Partly because of the mounting criticism we woke up and realized we had to deal with this. We believe Saudi society will accept this,” the official said.

It is not the first time a Saudi monarch has backed a controversial reform against domestic opposition.

King Faisal, who introduced television in the 1960s and was eventually assassinated, insisted on introducing education for girls.

Today, Saudi women graduates outnumber their male counterparts.