World leaders head to Saudi Arabia to meet new King Salman
Riyadh, Jan 24: Dignitaries and leaders from around the world were to arrive in Saudi Arabia today to offer their condolences to its new King Salman, a day after the death of his half-brother King Abdullah.
Abdullah, a cautious reformer who led the US-allied Gulf state through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and Islamic extremism, died early yesterday aged about 90. Since he took the throne in 2005, Riyadh has been a key Arab ally of Washington, last year joining the coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group.
World leaders praised the king as a key mediator between Muslims and the West, but campaigners criticised his rights record and urged Salman to do more to protect freedom of speech and women's rights.
Gulf rulers and leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were among those who attended Abdullah's simple funeral at Riyadh's Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque today.
The late king's body, wrapped in a cream-coloured shroud, was borne on a simple litter by members of the royal family wearing traditional red-and-white checked headgear.
The body was quickly moved to nearby Al-Od public cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave, in keeping with tradition.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak arrived later to deliver condolences. In the 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.
Officials did not disclose the cause of Abdullah's death, but the long-ailing ruler had been hospitalised in December with pneumonia. President Barack Obama was quick to pay tribute to Abdullah yesterday as a "valued" ally, and the State Department said Washington saw no indication that cooperation would change.
Biden said on Twitter he would lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia "to pay respect and offer condolences".
Salman vowed yesterday to keep the conservative, oil-rich Muslim 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".