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Condolences Pour In on Death of Saudi Monarch

  • Gary Thomas

World leaders have been sending their condolences on the death of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. His rule had repercussions far beyond his nation's borders.

The death of King Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the fifth monarch of Saudi Arabia, marked the passing of a king who oversaw a period of tremendous change.

Under King Fahd's rule, Saudi Arabia came into enormous wealth from its vast oil reserves, making it a major player on the international stage.

Upon learning of the king's death and the accession to the throne of his brother, President Bush called the new king, Abudullah, to offer his condolences.

The late King Fahd allowed the first President Bush to station troops and aircraft in the kingdom during the first Gulf War, earning the Saudi monarch the deep gratitude of the United States, but also the undying enmity of an emerging generation of terrorists, led by Osama bin Laden.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi envoy to Britain who is about to become ambassador to the United States, said the role of Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War is a key component of King Fahd's legacy.

"Probably one of his most major accomplishments was in taking a stand against Saddam Hussein in 1990, and bringing the rest of the world with him, and opposing the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called King Fahd a man of great vision and leadership who inspired his countrymen. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder praised King Fahd's wisdom, far-sightedness, and "huge personal engagement for dialogue between the Middle East and the Western world." French President Jacques Chirac said King Fahd guaranteed the integrity of his country, defended regional stability, and developed the kingdom wisely.

Arab leaders mourned one of their own. Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said King Fahd devoted himself to the service of his religion, homeland, people and his Arab and Muslim nation. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the Saudi monarch spent his life defending what he called the interests of the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the causes of the Arab nation.

As monarch of Saudi Arabia, King Fahd was not only an Arab leader, but a religious one as well, as he also ruled over the country that is the site of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina.

Speaking in Egypt, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, expressed deep sadness at the passing of King Fahd.

"King Fahd was a great king, and served very well the interests of the Arab and Muslim world, so we feel his loss," he said. "At the same time, we feel Saudi Arabia will continue to be at the forefront of Arab and Muslim action in the field of development and organization, and also in the field of defending Arab rights and causes."

Mr. Moussa also announced that, out of respect, an emergency Arab summit that was to have been held in two days at Sharm el-Sheik - the Egyptian resort that was bombed by terrorists recently - is being postponed until further notice.

Prince Turki, the Saudi ambassador, said there is likely to be little change, if any, from King Fahd's policies.

"The crown prince, who has become king, King Abdullah, worked closely with the late King Fahd in implementing the policies of Saudi Arabia, both external and internal," he said. "So, I cannot imagine that there will be any particular change in that policy, but rather continuation of the policies undertaken by the late King Fahd."

King Abdullah was seen as the de facto ruler of the country since King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke 10 years ago.