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King Fahd of Saudi Arabia Dies After Long Illness, Controversial Rule

Saudi TV interrupted its regular broadcasting to read a statement issued by the Saudi royal court, announcing the King's death. He died in a hospital in Riyadh, where he was taken more than two months ago for unspecified medical tests.

Fahd became king in June 1982. Early in his rule, Fahd was credited with turning Saudi Arabia into one of the Middle East's most modern states. But his efforts to liberalize the kingdom were compromised by his early reputation as a womanizer. In an effort to shed that image, he took the title of "custodian of the two holy mosques," a reference to Islam's holy shrines at Mecca and Medina.

His close ties to the West, especially Washington, are blamed for sowing the seeds of Islamic extremism in the kingdom -- including the al-Qaida terror network. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, King Fahd allowed thousands of U.S. troops, including women, into Saudi Arabia, fearing Hussein would try to invade the kingdom.

Militants set off bombs at two U.S. military posts in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, killing 25 Americans, and have launched other attacks within the kingdom in recent years.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer. Monday, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said he does forsee a dramatic change in Saudi relations with the rest of the world. "I cannot imagine there will be any particular change in policies, but rather a continuation of the policies taken by the late King Fahd," including oil policy.

Several countries announced periods of mourning and flew flags at half-staff. The Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, ordered three days of mourning throughout the Arab world for the late king. The Arab League also postponed the start of its summit, set to begin Wednesday in Sharm-el-Sheik.