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The execution of Saudi Arabia’s prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has sparked anger and protests in Shia communities across the region.

Shia-led Iran, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, has led the official condemnation of the execution.

Protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia’s Shia-majority Eastern Province, in Bahrain and several other countries.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a vocal supporter of mass protests in the province in 2011.

He was a prominent, outspoken cleric who articulated the feelings of those in Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority who feel marginalized and discriminated against.Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr execution protests

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death on January 2 after being convicted of terrorism offences.

In the early hours of January 3, unconfirmed reports from Tehran said that the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital had come under attack from protesters.

Iranian officials have been strident in their condemnation of the execution. The foreign ministry said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it has summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said a “harsh revenge” would be exacted for the execution, Iranian news agencies report.

Saudi Arabia in turn summoned the Iranian envoy “and handed him a strong-worded protest note on the aggressive Iranian statements”, a foreign ministry statement said.

The website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei posted a picture suggesting the execution was comparable to the actions of ISIS.

As the Shia power in the region, Iran takes huge interest in the affairs of Shia minorities in the Middle East.

However, one of the principal concerns of the Saudis is what they see as the growing influence of Iran in places like Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

At least one protest march was held in Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, defying a ban on public protests.

Protesters shouted the slogans “The people want the fall of the regime”, and “Down with the al-Saud family”, reminiscent of the 2011 protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s arrest in 2012, during which he was shot, triggered days of protests in Eastern Province in which three people were killed.

January 2 executions were carried out simultaneously in 12 locations across Saudi Arabia. Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest were Saudis.

The international rights group Amnesty International said the 47 executions demonstrated the Saudi authorities’ “utter disregard for human rights and life” and called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s trial “political and grossly unfair”.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s family said he had been found guilty, among other charges, of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom but his supporters say he advocated only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.

Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia Muslims and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.

Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

Saudi Arabia’s prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has been executed, the interior ministry said.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 put to death after being convicted of terrorism offences, it said in a statement.

He was a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that erupted in Eastern Province in 2011, where a Shia majority has long complained of marginalization.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s arrest the following year triggered days of unrest.

His death sentence was confirmed in October 2014.Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr executed in Saudi Arabia

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s family said he was found guilty of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom, “disobeying” its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces.

Shia-led Iran – the main regional rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia – said Riyadh will pay a “high price” for executing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Those also put to death include Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks in 2003, reports said.

Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest are Saudis.

Protests broke out in early 2011 in the oil-rich Eastern Province in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s supporters say he supported only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.

He had been a persistent critic of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni royal family.

His brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, said he hoped any reaction to the execution would be peaceful.

A lawmaker in Iraq’s governing Shia coalition said the death aimed at “provoking sectarian fighting”, while Lebanon’s Shia council called it a “grave mistake”, Reuters reported.

Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.

Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

At least 5 people have been killed and nine wounded in an attack on a Shia gathering hall in Saihat, eastern Saudi Arabia, the interior ministry says.

The killings, in Saihat in Eastern Province on October 16, come two days after the start of Ashura commemorations, a holy occasion for Shia Muslims.

A group claiming links to Islamic State (ISIS) said it carried out the attack.

The Saudi Arabian interior ministry said a gunman opened fire at random before police intervened and shot the attacker dead.

Later, a group calling itself Islamic State-Bahrain State said that one of its “soldiers” had attacked “a Shia infidel temple” with an automatic weapon.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The group warned that “infidels will not be safe in the island of Mohammed”.

Correspondents say the name of the group appears to be a reference to the historic area of Bahrain, which once encompassed parts of what is now Saudi Arabia.

Other, smaller attacks against the Shia community in the east of Saudi Arabia were also reported on Friday evening.

The minority Shia community in Saudi Arabia is increasingly being targeted. Most live in the oil-rich east, and many complain of discrimination.

In May, ISIS said it had carried out a deadly bomb attack outside a Shia mosque in the city of Damman.

A week before, more than 20 people were killed in the village of al-Qadeeh when an ISIS suicide bomber struck during Friday prayers at a Shia mosque.

That attack was the first to be claimed by a Saudi branch of ISIS.

Hardline Sunnis regard Shia Muslims as heretics.

Saudi Arabia, which is part of a US-led coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, has previously been threatened by ISIS.

The Saudis are also leading a coalition of Arab states in an air campaign against Shia rebels in Yemen.

In the Ashura commemorations, Shias mourn the death of Hussein, a venerated grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Saudi Arabia government has decided to cut spending and delay some state projects after the recent decline in the price of oil, Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf has announced.

Talking to broadcaster CNBC Arabia, Ibrahim al-Assaf said Saudi Arabia was in a good position to manage low oil prices.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporting country, has maintained its production levels despite a collapse in the price of oil.

Oil is trading at less than $50 per barrel, half the price of a year ago.

“We have built reserves, cut public debt to near-zero levels and we are now working on cutting unnecessary expenses while focusing on main development projects and on building human resources in the kingdom,” Ibrahim al-Assaf said in the interview.Saudi Arabia economy 2015

Some areas of the economy will still receive investment, the finance minister said, as Saudi Arabia tries to improve industries outside energy.

“Projects in sectors such as education, health and infrastructure are not only important for the private sector but also for the long-term growth of the Saudi economy,” he said.

Ibrahim al-Assaf did not give details of where cuts would happen.

It may issue bonds, or Islamic bonds known as sukuk to finance some spending, Ibrahim al-Assaf said.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has more than $600 billion in reserves it can draw upon should expenditure outstrip income from oil exports.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, a Self-proclaimed “Warren Buffett of Arabia” was born in 1955. He is the nephew of King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

A business magnate and investor, Prince Alwaleed studied at Menlo College and Syracuse University in the US.

He is the founder of Kingdom Holding Company, a Riyadh-based publicly traded conglomerate.

His first contract was to advise a Korean company building an officers’ club at a Riyadh military academy. Later chose to invest the profits in local real estate.

Prince Alwaleed invested $590 million in struggling Citibank (now Citigroup) in 1991; stake is now worth billions.

He has stakes in Disney, 21st Century Fox, News Corp, Apple, GM, Twitter, and a string of hotel chains and luxury hotels, including New York’s Plaza Hotel and the George V in Paris.Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud

Considered Westernized and progressive on most issues, Prince Alwaleed champions women’s rights as most of his staff are women. He has financed the training of Hanadi Zakaria al-Hindi to become the first Saudi woman commercial airline pilot and has stated on her graduation that he is “in full support of Saudi ladies working in all fields”.

He owns a 371-room, 42,700 sq m (460,000 sq ft) palace in Riyadh, a Boeing 747-400 and an A380, and an 85m super yacht.

Prince Alwaleed established Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundations across world to offer valuable humanitarian, educational and social assistance.

The first wife of Prince Alwaleed was Dalal bint Saud, a daughter of King Saud. They have two children: Reem and Khalid. They later divorced. His second wife was a young woman Ameera al-Taweel, but later divorced.

In an interview recently, Prince Alwaleed had said: “Yes, I announce it through Okaz/Saudi Gazette for the first time. I have officially separated from Princess Ameera Al-Taweel, but she remains a person that I have all respect for.”

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia has announced he will donate his $32 billion personal fortune to philantropy.

The 60-year-old nephew of King Salman is one of the world’s richest people.

Prince Alwaleed said he had been inspired by the Gates Foundation, set up by Bill and Melinda Gates in 1997.

The money would be used to “foster cultural understanding”, “empower women”, and “provide vital disaster relief”, among other things, he said.

Bill Gates praised the decision, calling it an “inspiration to all of us working in philanthropy around the world”.Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia donates personal wealth

Prince Alwaleed is at number 34 on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.

The money will go to the prince’s charitable organization, Alwaleed Philanthropies, to which he has already donated $3.5 billion.

Prince Alwaleed, who does not hold an official government position, is chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding Company.

The company owns stakes in hotels The Four Seasons, Fairmont and Raffles, as well as News Corp, Citigroup, Twitter and Apple.

“This is very much separate from my ownership in Kingdom Holding,” he said at the announcement.

“Philanthropy is a personal responsibility, which I embarked upon more than three decades ago and is an intrinsic part of my Islamic faith,” he added in a statement.

Prince Alwaleed said he hoped the gift would “help build bridges to foster cultural understanding, develop communities, empower women, enable youth, provide vital disaster relief and create a more tolerant and accepting world”.

His announcement comes during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are encouraged to give charity and help the needy.

Prince Alwaleed said the donation would take place over several years and would be overseen by a board of trustees, which he will head.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has left his refuge in Aden under Saudi protection and arrived in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, officials say, as a Saudi-led coalition continues to launch air strikes against Shia Houthi rebels.

It is the first confirmation of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s whereabouts since March 25, when he fled rebel forces in the city of Aden.

The officials say he will go to Egypt for an Arab league summit on March 28.

The Saudi authorities began air strikes in Yemen on Wednesday night, a step Iran called “dangerous”.

During the second night of raids warplanes again targeted rebel positions in Yemen’s capital Sanaa and an air base near the southern port city of Aden.

Reports say there were civilian casualties.

Clashes were also reported in Aden between troops loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia says it is “defending the legitimate government” of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.Yemen President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi gets Saudi refuge

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi took refuge in Aden last month after fleeing Sanaa, where he had been under house arrest since the Houthis took full control of the capital in January.

On March 27, a Saudi official said he had travelled to Riyadh, but would attend the two-day Arab summit in Egypt as the “legitimate” Yemeni president.

The Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubair, said the first wave of airstrikes over targets in Yemen “went extremely well and with no collateral damage”.

He said this was “just the beginning of the campaign” which would carry on until “wisdom prevails” among the Houthi rebels.

Sources say the kingdom would consider sending troops to protect the government if it were to re-assemble in Aden in the future.

Reports said Saudi Arabia was using 100 warplanes in the operation, and its allies would contribute dozens more.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV reported that the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan were sending aircraft, while Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in any ground offensive targeting the Houthis.

The US said it was providing “logistical and intelligence support”.

However, a Houthi official warned the coalition that it risked provoking a wider war.

Shia power Iran, which Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia accuses of backing the rebels, also demanded an immediate halt to the strikes, which it said violated Yemen’s sovereignty.

Turkey has accused Iran of trying to dominate the region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he supported the operation against the Houthis, adding Iran’s stance had begun “annoying us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries”.

“This is really not tolerable and Iran has to see this,” he said.

A conflict that pulls in regional powers could disrupt global oil supplies, and the price of Brent crude rose almost 6% after the strikes began.

Media reports said at least 13 civilians were killed in Sanaa during the first day of the air strikes, and 18 people were killed in clashes between rebel fighters and soldiers and militiamen loyal to Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in southern Yemen.

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Oil prices rose by almost 6% after Saudi Arabia and its allies launched air strikes on Houthi rebel targets in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest crude exporter.

The move has raised concerns that the conflict could spread in the oil-rich Middle East and possibly disrupt supplies from the region.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures, the US benchmark, rallied to about $51 a barrel before falling back.

Brent crude climbed to $59.71 a barrel, but has since dipped to $56.50.

Pressure on the oil price eased slightly as it became clear there was no immediate threat to Middle East oil shipments. However, fears remain that Iran could be drawn into the conflict.Oil prices surge after Saudi Arabia and allies launch air strikes on Houthi fighters in Yemen

Yemen is located along an important international shipping route for global energy producers. But the country is sliding towards civil war.

Houthi rebels receiving support from Iran have marched on the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, where Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi took refuge after he was forced him to flee the capital, Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia, supported by regional allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, launched airstrikes on Thursday aimed at halting the rebel advance.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are both members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the group that produces about 40% of the world’s oil. Oil exports to Europe pass through the narrow Red Sea strait between the port of Aden and Djibouti.

However, the current glut in global oil stocks, built up in part thanks to US shale production and plentiful output from Russia and other producers, means there is unlikely to be an acute crisis in supply.

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In some parts of the world like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia, celebrating Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates or a glass of wine could result in severe punishment.

While Valentine’s Day is celebrated by many Indonesians, officials and Muslim clerics are less happy about the holiday.

In recent years there have been protests from conservative Indonesians, saying Valentine’s Day is un-Islamic.

They argue it promotes casual s** and the drinking of alcohol.

India

A number of political parties in India have criticized Valentine’s Day, arguing it promotes Western values and is unwelcome in India.

India used to be part of the British Empire until it declared independence on August 15, 1947.

In 2015, the Indian Hindu nationalist party Mahasabha said that they would encourage couples spotted out together on Valentine’s Day to get married, and will actually have a religious leader on standby to perform marriages.

Other groups have said that celebrating romance would encourage teenage pregnancy and instead pushed for Indians to ditch the idea of romance between boys and girls and replace Valentine’s Day with a celebration of the love between parents and children, a “Parent’s Worship Day”.

The idea began on religious leader Asaram Bapu’s website.

Indonesia

The Asian country has the world’s largest Muslim population, but is a secular nation, meaning that the government says it is neutral and neither supports nor disagrees with religion.

However, in the province of Aceh, the only place with Islamic rule, celebrations are banned as is the sale of gifts.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Iran

While giving chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day is increasingly popular in Iran, in the past authorities have sought to crack down on celebrations, calling the day a “decedent Western custom”.

Despite this restaurants in Tehran reported being fully booked last year and many shops could be seen selling teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

This was in spite of being threatened with prosecution if they sold traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.

According to the Economist, shops simply used lookouts to tell them if inspectors were coming on a Valentine’s Day patrol.

Malaysia

Last year, 80 Muslims were arrested by the Islamic morality police for celebrating Valentine’s Day.

They think Valentine’s Day encourages immoral activities.

Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.

The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign by the country’s Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa (religious ruling) issued in 2005.

However, many Malaysians still celebrate the day and other faiths are not affected by the Valentine’s Day boycott in the country.

Additionally not all Malaysian Muslims agreed with the campaign, with some saying Valentine’s Day is harmless.

Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the 28 million-population.

Pakistan

In 2014, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.

Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.

Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.

Three students were injured and stones were thrown at police.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, Valentine’s Day is banned by the kingdom’s religious police.

Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo.

However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine’s presents.

One shop owner described how Valentine’s Day orders are placed over the telephone to avoid detection and flowers are hidden in the back of the store.

Last August, the decision to sentence five Saudis to a total of 39 years in prison, as well as 4,500 lashes between them, was upheld.

The men had been found dancing with six women they were unrelated to on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and red roses were also seized.

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9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui has claimed members of the Saudi royal family helped fund the 2001 attacks.

Al-Qaeda’s Zacarias Moussaoui, who is imprisoned in Colorado for his role in the 9/11 attacks, gave testimony in October to lawyers for victims suing Saudi Arabia.

His statement came to light when it was filed in court this week in response to a Saudi bid to drop the lawsuit.

Saudi Arabia has rejected the accusation from a “deranged criminal” with no credibility.

They have made several attempts for the lawsuit to be dropped.Zacarias Moussaoui accuses Saudi royals of funding attacks

In a rare interview for an inmate at a high security “supermax” prison, Zacarias Moussaoui said “extremely famous” Saudi officials, including Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, a former Saudi intelligence chief, were funding al-Qaeda from the late 1990s.

Zacarias Moussaoui also claimed to have met a Saudi official in Afghanistan who worked in the US embassy.

The two men were later supposed to travel to Washington to find a location “suitable to launch a stinger [missile] attack” on Air Force One, he said.

His claims, made under oath, have not been verified.

Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested weeks before the 9/11 attacks on immigrations charges and was in prison at the time of the attacks. He had taken flying lessons in Minnesota and had been wired money by an al-Qaeda affiliate.

In court at his sentencing, Zacarias Moussaoui said he had been part of a grandiose plot to fly a Boeing 747 into the White House.

However, testimony from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – also in US custody – was used by Zacarias Moussaoui’s defense lawyers to undercut his claims during trial.

Families of 9/11 victims allege that Saudi Arabia and a government-affiliated charity knowingly provided funding and other material support to al-Qaeda that helped it carry out the attacks.

Plaintiffs include families of the nearly 3,000 people killed, as well as insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.

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President Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia’s new King Abdullah after the death of King Abdullah.

Barack Obama cut short a trip to India to make time for the visit.

The president is being accompanied by prominent Republican officials, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.

Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in a region riven by war and rivalries.

Barack Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal in India on January 27, but had to cancel to allow for the four-hour visit to Riyadh.

In an interview with CNN before he left India, Barack Obama suggested he would be unlikely to raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison last May for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.

Barack Obama’s visit would focus on “paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom”, the president added.Barack Obama in Saudi Arabia

On human rights, Barack Obama said: “We have maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and with all the other countries we work with. What I have found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.”

“And oftentimes that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated, sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”

Also among the 30-strong US delegation are CIA director John Brennan, John McCain, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Saudi Arabia is among the US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations conducting air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.

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Late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was buried on January 23 in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery in Riyadh.

Leaders of the Muslim world and thousands of Saudi subjects paid their final respects to King Abdullah at a simple ceremony at a Riyadh mosque after Friday prayer.

In accordance with royal custom, the body of King Abdullah, who died at 1 AM., was swathed in white and laid out for visitation at the Imam Turki ibn Abdullah Grand Mosque in the capital.

The afternoon funeral was attended by Middle East monarchs and a few presidents from countries near enough to Saudi Arabia to travel to the ceremonies that by Islamic practice must be conducted before the next sundown following a believer’s death.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

World leaders who plan to attend memorials scheduled this weekend sent condolences and praise for King Abdullah’s role as a mediator between the West and Islam.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II left the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the funeral and declared 40 days of mourning in his own kingdom.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared “much sadness” at the news of King Abdullah’s passing and announced three days of mourning in the Palestinian territories.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised King Abdullah for “strengthening cooperation and solidarity in the Muslim world, especially concerning the Palestinian question and the situation in Syria.”

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief rival in the Muslim world, sent condolences to the Saudi people and said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would travel to Riyadh to pay respects.

Saudi Arabia’s more austere form of Islam eschews public displays of grief and elaborate ritual, even for its monarchs, who are among the world’s richest men.

King Abdullah was reported to have a net worth of $20 billion.

The funeral was open to the public, including women in their separate section of the mosque, and shops and businesses will remain open during a three-day mourning period.

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World leaders gather in Saudi Arabia to pay their respects in person after the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on January 23.

French President Francois Hollande and UK’s PM David Cameron will be in Riyadh. The US delegation is led by Vice-President Joe Biden.

King Abdullah died Friday at 1 AM, aged 90. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Riyadh after Friday prayers.

King Salman, 79, pledged continuity after his accession to the throne.

He also moved swiftly to appoint heirs and ministers, including one prince from the ruling dynasty’s third generation.

On January 24, Joe Biden, David Cameron and Francois Hollande will take part in official ceremonies in the Saudi capital.King Abdullah funeral in Saudi Arabia

Iran will be represented by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

King Abdullah died on Friday, weeks after being admitted to hospital with a lung infection, and he was buried later that day.

Within hours of acceding to the throne, King Salman 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,” he said.

He named another of King Abdullah’s half-brothers, Muqrin, as the new crown prince.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was appointed deputy crown prince, making him second in line to the throne and in effect smoothing the line of succession for years to come.

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 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 had suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years, and King Salman had recently taken on the ailing monarch’s responsibilities.

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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 Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is suffering from pneumonia and has been breathing with the aid of a tube, Saudi officials have said.

The King, who is said to be aged about 90, was admitted to hospital on December 31 for medical checks.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who came to the throne in 2005, has suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years.King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hospitalized

His age and condition has led to increasing focus on the issue of the Saudi royal succession.

Crown Prince Salman, who is in his late 70s, is next in line to succeed the king, though questions remain over who will follow.

The crown has passed between the sons of Saudi Arabia’s founding father Ibn Saud, but few are still alive.

Last year, King Abdullah took the unprecedented step of appointing a deputy crown prince, his younger half-brother Prince Muqrin, to try to ensure a smooth succession.

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Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

A US official was quoted as saying John Kerry would discuss co-operation in Jeddah to facilitate US air strikes.

Earlier, President Barack Obama said he would not hesitate to take action against ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq.

Barack Obama also announced that 475 US military personnel would be sent to Iraq but said they would not have a combat role.

ISIS group controls large parts of Syria and Iraq after a rapid military advance.

Its fighters have become notorious for their brutality, beheading enemy soldiers and Western journalists on video.

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against ISIS militants

Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet key Arab leaders, as he tries to build a coalition against ISIS militants (photo Reuters)

The US has launched over 150 air strikes against the group in Iraq and has provided arms to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting against IS.

John Kerry, who arrived in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on September 11, will hold talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and NATO member Turkey.

“Many of the countries are already taking action against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – the previous name for ISIS] ,” a State Department official was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

“But the trip by the secretary [John Kerry] is going to broaden the coalition and bring it into more focus and intensify the lines of effort.”

Among the issues to be discussed would be training for Syrian rebels on Saudi soil and a wider over flight permission from regional states to increase the capacity of US aircraft, reports say.

In a 15-minute speech shown at peak time in the US on September 10, President Barack Obama vowed that America would lead “a broad coalition to roll back” ISIS.

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.

A Saudi man who was suspected of contracting Ebola disease in Sierra Leone has died at a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s health ministry says.

If confirmed, this would be the first Ebola-related death outside Africa in an outbreak that has killed more than 900 people this year.

The man recently visited Sierra Leone, one of four countries in the outbreak.

World Health Organization (WHO) experts are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss a response to the outbreak.

The two-day meeting will decide whether to declare a global health emergency.

Ebola, a viral hemorrhagic fever, is one of the deadliest diseases known to humans, with a fatality rate of up to 90%.

The Ebola virus spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids

The Ebola virus spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids

A WHO statement on Wednesday said 932 patients had died of the disease in West Africa so far, with most of the latest fatalities reported in Liberia.

Concern has also been growing over a number of new cases in Nigeria, the region’s most populous nation. On Wednesday, a nurse who treated an Ebola patient became the second person to die of the disease there.

Nigeria’s Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu described the outbreak as a national emergency, adding that “everyone in the world is at risk” because of air travel.

The Saudi man who was suspected of contracting the disease died of cardiac arrest, according to the website of the country’s health ministry.

The 40-year-old is said to have returned from a recent business trip to Sierra Leone.

The ministry’s website said he was being tested for Ebola, but did not say if the tests had concluded that he had the disease.

The website said the man had been treated for Ebola-like symptoms in an isolation ward and would be buried according to Islamic tradition, while following precautions set out by world health authorities.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas to Muslims from several West African countries, amid concerns that visiting pilgrims could spread the disease.

Meanwhile, two US aid workers – Dr. Kent Brantly and Nurse Nancy Writebol – who contracted Ebola in Liberia appear to be improving after receiving an unapproved medicine ahead of their evacuation back to the US.

t is not clear if the ZMapp drug, which has only been tested on monkeys, can be credited with their improvement.

Leading infectious disease experts have called for experimental treatments to be offered more widely.

The meeting of the WHO’s emergency committee is focusing solely on how to respond to the Ebola outbreak.

If a public health emergency is declared, it could involve detailed plans to identify, isolate and treat cases, as well as impose travel restrictions on affected areas.

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Saudi Arabia has confirmed that 282 people have been killed by the MERS virus, almost 100 more than initially thought.

The increase came after a national review of hospital data from the time the virus emerged in 2012.

The deputy health minister, who has been criticized for his handling of the crisis, was sacked on Monday.

Cases of the virus, for which there is no known cure, have been confirmed in almost a dozen other countries.

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that 282 people have been killed by the MERS virus, almost 100 more than initially thought

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that 282 people have been killed by the MERS virus, almost 100 more than initially thought

Saudi authorities said there had now been 688 confirmed MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) infections in the kingdom. Before the revision the number of cases was believed to be 575.

Health ministry spokesman Tariq Madani said that despite the revised figures, fewer people were now contracting the disease.

“Though the review showed confirmed cases that needed to be added, we are still witnessing a decline in the number of newly registered cases in the past few weeks” he said.

Of those infected, the country’s health ministry said, 53 were still receiving treatment.

Saudi Arabia has registered the largest number of infections of MERS.

MERS virus is from the same family as the common cold, but can lead to kidney failure and pneumonia.

Cases have also been confirmed in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, the UK and, most recently, the US.

Camels are suspected to be the main source of infection for humans. Saudi authorities have urged citizens to wear protective masks when dealing with the animals.

In April Saudi’s King Abdullah sacked the health minister as the death toll climbed.

Three Gulf countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar amid accusations that it has meddled in internal affairs.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, which are all part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) along with Qatar, made the joint statement on Wednesday.

The statement claims that Qatar failed to commit to an agreement it signed three months ago in Riyadh.

Tensions between Qatar and the rest of the GCC have increased in recent years.

The joint statement said that during a meeting on Monday in Riyadh, the three countries had made “major efforts to convince Qatar” to implement a 2013 GCC agreement on joint security.

The recall of the ambassadors was therefore necessary to ensure “security and stability”.

Three Gulf countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar amid accusations that it has meddled in internal affairs

Three Gulf countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar amid accusations that it has meddled in internal affairs

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been calling for increased military and diplomatic union within the six-member GCC, which also includes Qatar, Omar and Kuwait.

However, Qatar and Oman have so far resisted increased integration in these fields.

The incident is one of the most serious disagreements within the GCC in recent times.

Oil and gas-rich Qatar has been an increasingly vocal diplomatic player. It strongly supported Egypt’s now-ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and is a key backer of rebels in Syria.

Qatar is home to the influential al-Jazeera news network, which broadcasts across the world and has been critical of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The state is seen as a major financial and diplomatic supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On Monday, a Qatari citizen received a seven-year jail sentence in the UAE for supporting a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s new government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has charged nine al-Jazeera journalists of aiding a terrorist organization, as it now brands the Muslim Brotherhood, and has put them on trial.

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A Saudi royal member, who murdered a fellow Saudi, may be executed, a newspaper reported on Sunday, in a rare example of a member of the kingdom’s ruling family facing the death penalty.

The English-language Arab News did not name the prince or his victim, but said a senior member of the family and government, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, had “cleared the way for the possible execution of a prince convicted of murdering a Saudi citizen”.

In a message about the case to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Prince Salman said: “Sharia [Islamic law] shall be applied to all without exception.”

Prince Salman’s message followed a statement from the victim’s father that he was not ready to pardon the killer and he was not happy with the amount offered as blood money.

The families of murder victims are encouraged by authorities to accept blood money instead of insisting on execution.

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud had cleared the way for the possible execution of a prince convicted of murdering a Saudi citizen

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud had cleared the way for the possible execution of a prince convicted of murdering a Saudi citizen

The paper quoted Crown Prince Salman’s message as saying: “There is no difference between big and small, rich and poor … Nobody is allowed to interfere with the judiciary’s decision. This is the tradition of this state. We are committed to following the sharia.”

The Arab News is part of a media group chaired by a son of Crown Prince Salman, who is also deputy PM and minister of defense.

The kingdom, which follows a strict version of sharia has been criticized in the West for its high number of executions, inconsistencies in the application of the law, and its use of public beheading to carry out death sentences.

Saudi Arabia had executed at least 47 people as of May 2013, according to Amnesty International’s website, compared to 82 in all of 2011 and a similar number in 2012.

Members of the ruling family are only rarely known to be executed. One of the most prominent cases was Faisal bin Musaid al Saud, who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, in 1975.

The Saudi royal family is estimated to number several thousand. While members receive monthly stipends, and the most senior princes command great wealth and political power, only a few in the family hold nationally important government posts.

Lebanon’s army is to receive a $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman made the announcement in a televised address after the funeral of a senior Lebanese politician killed in a car bomb attack. He said it would help fight terrorism.

Mohamad Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, was a staunch critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement that backs him.

Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah have taken opposite sides in the Syrian conflict.

Mohamad Chatah was killed in a car bomb attack in Beirut

Mohamad Chatah was killed in a car bomb attack in Beirut

“The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3 billion to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities,” Michel Sleiman said in his address.

He said it was the largest assistance provided in Lebanon’s history and would be used to buy weapons from France.

French President Francois Hollande said his country would “meet” any demands for weapons from Lebanon during a visit on Sunday to Saudi Arabia aimed at boosting commercial ties with the kingdom.

“I am in touch with President Sleiman… If demands are made to us, we will meet them,” Francois Hollande said.

President Michel Sleiman said the Saudi aid would finally allow the Lebanese army to “confront terrorism” and put an end to the proliferation of arms.

Saudi campaigner Aziza al Yousef has been stopped by police as she was driving through Riyadh.

Aziza al Yousef is a leading campaigner for giving women the right to drive.

Photos of Aziza al Yousef were posted on Friday morning as she was seen at the wheel.

Her fellow activist, Eman al Nafjan, took the pictures.

On her Twitter page, Eman al Nafjan provided a running account of their drive, saying they bought a bunch of bananas without anyone batting an eyelid.

Eman al Nafjan posted a photo of them filling up at a petrol station and expressed her satisfaction that this all seemed to be treated as an everyday occurrence.

But then they were spotted and reported to the police, who stopped them.

Both were asked to sign a pledge that they would not drive again. Eman al Nafjan refused to.

Saudi campaigner Aziza al Yousef has been stopped by police as she was driving through Riyadh

Saudi campaigner Aziza al Yousef has been stopped by police as she was driving through Riyadh

On Twitter, while still with the police, she said that if she was asked to call her male guardian, she would simply say that she was her own guardian. But her guardian – known as a mahram – was called against her wishes.

The two women were then released. Eman al Nafjan described her companion as the bravest and most courageous of drivers. It was only two days ago that Aziza al Yousef – with another activist, Hala al-Dosari – had a meeting with the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The prince has long been one of the most powerful men in the country and is seen as a possible future king – representing a younger generation than the current leaders. Activists said the meeting was positive and the minister sympathetic.

No-one expected this to herald any big change in the immediate future. Reform is a gradual process in Saudi Arabia and there remain powerful factions opposed to lifting the driving ban on women.

But the meeting came after activists re-launched a campaign several months ago with the aim of making the idea of women driving in Saudi Arabia a normal part of life.

They originally set October 26 as a day for women – with the support of Saudi men – to take to the wheel. Dozens did, but the authorities made clear they would not accept a mass flouting of the ban.

Since then, activists have recast the campaign around the non-existent day of November 31 – a sign that it would continue indefinitely. Several women have been driving and posting videos of themselves since.

The meeting with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had been seen as possibly offering fresh hope that the authorities might be taking a softer stance.

The brief detention of Aziza al Yousef and Eman al Nafjan is an abrupt reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in Saudi Arabia – and that a shift one way often only signals a shift in the exact opposite direction a few days later.

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According to a poll of gender experts, Egypt is now the worst country for women’s rights in the Arab world.

The study found s**ual harassment, high rates of female genital mutilation and a growth in conservative Islamist groups contributed to the low ranking.

The Comoros islands came top in the survey, which was conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The poll surveyed more than 330 gender experts in 21 Arab League states as well as Syria.

It is the foundation’s third annual study focusing on women’s rights since the Arab Uprisings in 2011.

Iraq ranked second-worst after Egypt, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

Egypt is now the worst country for women's rights in the Arab world, according to a poll of gender experts

Egypt is now the worst country for women’s rights in the Arab world, according to a poll of gender experts

The Comoros, where women hold 20% of ministerial positions, is followed at the top of the rankings by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

The poll asked experts to assess factors such as violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family and women’s role in politics and the economy.

Discriminatory laws and a spike in trafficking contributed to Egypt’s place at the bottom of the ranking of 22 Arab states, the survey said.

“There are whole villages on the outskirts of Cairo and elsewhere where the bulk of economic activity is based on trafficking in women and forced marriages,” said Zahra Radwan of US-based rights group Global Fund for Women.

However, s**ual harassment was cited as the main factor.

A UN report in April said 99.3% of women and girls in Egypt had been subjected to s**ual harassment.

“The social acceptability of everyday s**ual harassment affects every woman in Egypt regardless of age, professional or socio-economic background, marriage status, dress or behavior,” said Noora Flinkman of Egyptian campaign group HarassMap.

Meanwhile, the survey said Iraq was now more dangerous for women than under Saddam Hussein, with women disproportionately affected by the violence of the past decade.

Saudi Arabia ranked poorly on women’s involvement in politics, workplace discrimination, freedom of movement and property rights.

However, the conservative country scored better than many other Arab states when it came to access to education and healthcare, reproductive rights and gender violence.

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Saudi Arabia’s government has stepped up warnings to women not to defy a ban on female drivers by taking part in a mass driving protest.

The interior ministry has reiterated that anyone flouting the ban is likely to face unspecified punishment.

Saturday’s planned protest is the third of its kind since 1990.

About 17,000 people signed a petition calling either for women to be allowed to drive or for an explanation of why the prohibition should remain in force.

Campaigners are encouraging women to take to the wheel in defiance of the ban.

After the 1990 protest, a number of women were arrested or lost their jobs.

Saudi Arabia’s government has stepped up warnings to women not to defy a ban on female drivers by taking part in a mass driving protest

Saudi Arabia’s government has stepped up warnings to women not to defy a ban on female drivers by taking part in a mass driving protest

An interior ministry spokesman, Mansour al-Turki, considerably toughened the Saudi government line on the women drivers’ campaign on Thursday.

A previous statement on Wednesday was confusing, with both those pro- and anti- the campaign believing it favored them.

But Mansour al-Turki explicitly restated that women were prohibited from driving, with violators – and their supporters – likely to face unspecified measures.

A campaign activist, Zaki Safar, said that this was an unusually explicit statement of the ban, which is informal rather than enshrined in Saudi law.

Zaki Safar believes the government is still sending mixed messages, as it is itself divided over whether to lift the ban.

Earlier this week, about 100 conservative clerics asked for an audience at the royal court in the capital, Riyadh, to denounce the campaign as a conspiracy by women and a threat to the country.

But there have been indications of a less hardline attitude by the authorities than back in 1990, and at the second protest in 2011.

As part of the latest campaign, dozens of women have posted online videos of themselves driving in different Saudi cities. None of them has been arrested.

The activists behind the campaign believe the public mood is changing, with many more people – including an increasing number of men – publicly supporting the lifting of the ban.

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