News / Middle East

    World Leaders Head to Saudi Arabia after King's Death

    The body of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz is carried during his funeral at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque in Riyadh, Jan. 23, 2015.
    The body of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz is carried during his funeral at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque in Riyadh, Jan. 23, 2015.
    VOA News

    World leaders are descending on Saudi Arabia to pay respects following the death of King Abdullah.

    Despite deep tensions between the nations, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was one of the first to arrive Saturday.

    President Barack Obama is cutting short a visit to India to fly to the Sunni-ruled kingdom on Tuesday. He called the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, from Air Force One en route to India on Saturday to express his sympathies. The White House said Salman welcomed the news that Obama was coming to Riyadh.

    Vice President Joe Biden was to have led a delegation on the president's behalf, but he will now remain in Washington.

    Others arriving to meet the new king included Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. A Saudi Arabian delegation was shown on video Saturday greeting the presidents of Afghanistan and Tunisia and the vice presidents of India and Indonesia.

    The 90-year-old king, one of the world's few absolute monarchs, died Friday after being hospitalized with pneumonia. Abdullah was buried in a simple white shroud, according to Muslim tradition, in an unmarked grave at Al Oud public cemetery, following a simple ceremony in Riyadh attended by the Arab and Muslim world's top leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Meanwhile, the oil-rich kingdom moved quickly to ensure a smooth transition by appointing a new monarch. Salman, Abdullah's half brother, pledged to continue Abdullah's policies.

    FILE - The late Saudi king, Abdullah, as he appeared in 2007FILE - The late Saudi king, Abdullah, as he appeared in 2007
    FILE - The late Saudi king, Abdullah, as he appeared in 2007
    FILE - The late Saudi king, Abdullah, as he appeared in 2007

    The new king, thought to be 79, has been crown prince and defense minister since 2012. Another half brother, Muqrin, was named the new crown prince.

    Salman named his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as the new deputy crown prince and his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as Saudi Arabia's new defense minister and head of the royal court. Salman also said he would keep most other ministers.

    FILE - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.FILE - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.
    FILE - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.
    FILE - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.

    In a televised speech, Salman vowed to "continue adhering to the correct policies" of his predecessors. "We will remain, God willing, holding the straight course that this country has walked on since its establishment by the late King Abdul-Aziz," he said.

    The new king led prayers at the funeral service for Abdullah at the Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque in Riyadh.

    On Friday evening, hundreds of Saudis visited a royal palace in Riyadh to wish their new leader well.

    At his passing, Abdullah drew both lavish praise and sharp criticism.

    From the Middle East to the West, praise centered on the late king's promotion of peace.

    Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam issued a statement saying Lebanon has lost "a defender and partner" who stood by Beirut in difficult times.

    In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, newly enthroned King Salman, right, talks with Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, during King Abdullah's funeral in Riyadh, Jan. 23, 2015.
    In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, newly enthroned King Salman, right, talks with Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, during King Abdullah's funeral in Riyadh, Jan. 23, 2015.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the king's "generous humanitarian and developmental support for people across the Arab region and wider world," saying he "left a tangible legacy that can still point the way toward peace in the Middle East."

    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hailed Abdullah as an exemplary leader, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described his death as "a loss to the Arab and Islamic world."

    Abbas and several other regional leaders declared official mourning periods for the late king, including a week in Egypt and 40 days in Jordan.

    Other reactions to Abdullah's passing were less complimentary.

    Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Abdullah’s reign "brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association and assembly."

    The rights group urged his successor, Salman, to "halt persecution of peaceful dissidents and religious minorities, end pervasive discrimination against women, and ensure greater protections for migrant workers."

    Meanwhile, Islamic militants and their supporters celebrated the king's passing.

    "He sent his warplanes to kill Muslims in [Syria]. He imprisoned Muslim men and women and wherever there was a war against jihadis, he was the first," a jihadi supporter named Abu Azzam al-Najdi railed on social media, Reuters reported.

    Twitter posters used hashtags that, translated from Arabic, mean "Death of a Tyrant," the news agency said.

    Saudi King Abdullah Laid to Resti
    Jeff Custer
    January 23, 2015 6:30 PM
    Saudi Arabia’s longtime monarch, King Abdullah, died early Friday and was buried in the capital, Riyadh. New King Salman, his half brother, is pledging to continue the policies of his predecessors. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.

    Watch related video by VOA's Jeff Custer

    Abdullah ushered in modern era

    Abdullah officially ascended to the throne in 2005. But he actually had ruled since 1995, when his predecessor and half brother, King Fahd, suffered an incapacitating stroke.

    Abdullah is believed to have been born in Riyadh in 1924 to an ultra-conservative family in which the traditions and hospitality of Islam were always stressed.

    As he grew into adulthood, oil was discovered in the Saudi desert and the country grew into the world's top oil exporter, bringing vast wealth to royal family.

    Upon taking control, Abdullah began unprecedented moves to modernize the conservative kingdom.

    Women were given a voice in politics. This year, for the first time, they'll be allowed to vote in local elections.

    Abdullah also established a Western-style university where students from both sexes openly mixed and shared classes.

    Previously banned music could be heard on Saudi television and radio.

    Foreign policy maverick

    Abdullah was something of a maverick in his foreign policy. He proposed a peace deal in which Arab League states would recognize Israel if the Palestinians got their own state.

    In a leaked U.S. diplomatic note, the king urged the U.S. military to attack Iran and "cut off the head of the snake" to stop it from building a nuclear weapon.

    Saudi Arabia is one of the top suppliers of arms to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian government. It is a leading member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

    Saudi Arabia is part of the G20 economic bloc and the World Trade Organization.

    Despite reforms at home and moderation abroad, human rights groups continue to assail Saudi Arabia. They say women are still denied many basic rights.

    The king refused to support the Arab Spring movements that toppled dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

    Dissent is not tolerated, free speech is muffled, and criminals still face extreme punishment such as beheadings.

    Some information for this report was contributed by Reuters.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
    by: Jeff Crayton from: Dallas, TX
    January 25, 2015 4:35 PM

    Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

    Eleanor Roosevelt

    by: H. B. from: Saudi Arabia
    January 25, 2015 8:00 AM
    please VOA, what you read here in commentaries are filthy Iranian imposters. Yes, we have some problems in the Kingdom I will be the first to admit it. But look at the Iranian kuffars - look at what they did to Lebanon with Iranian Hezbollah terrorist organization, look at what they did to Syria, look at what the Iranians have done to Iraq, look at what they have been doing to cost American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, look at what despicable murders they have committed in Yemen, and Oman and Bahrain, look at their despicable atrocities against Egypt and Sudan... even as far away as Argentina their despicable cancer has metastasized... and now, they want to have a nuclear bomb, ostensibly to destroy Israel... yeah sure... God, I pray your people, the People of The Book will strike Iran dead.
    look America - its you they wish to destroy, its Saudi Arabia they wish to destroy, its Europe they wish to destroy, its Canada they wish to destroy... look around you Hezbollah IRGC is everywhere surrounding the Holy Places of Sunna Islam.
    I read the comments the Pakistanis have made against our late King - for shame you ungrateful people..!!
    In Response

    by: Ivanov from: Russia
    January 26, 2015 1:26 AM
    you ask why putin dont go to saudi, dont care. who care in russia your king die. good for you. our putin dont care. we russian dont care. western leaders kiss the new king hand. the new king want to destroy west. is good hope for russia
    In Response

    by: V-73 from: Egypt
    January 25, 2015 1:04 PM
    true that, may God protect the Kingdom, and rain destruction on the Iranian kuffar.

    by: Jay from: Sri Lanka
    January 25, 2015 4:41 AM

    It is supreme irony that Saudi Arabia and US do indded practice double standard in regard to much talked subject like Human Rights, freedom of region blah blah when it comes to deal with Oil. US is only honeymooning with any state that supports her geo political interests regardless of gross human rights violation in Saudi Arabia. Money talks!

    by: Mary from: UK
    January 24, 2015 9:48 PM
    All leaders rush to suck up to new King Salman, Blair's Grin says it all around about the time he was with Abdulla when he was Crown Prince is when he knew Brits were there being tortured, yet he still would not upset Saudi by asking for freedom, we as the families were told to shut up and not upset the oil producers as it would cause a rift, Blair and Bush are not worried about westerners being mistreated and the abuse of human rights in the Kingdom as long as they lined their own pockets in the process and they did that very well even though the Brits were denied any king of justice with the help of the Labour Government and the Law Lords. Blair and Bush really have blood on their leaders speak out in disgust over the Human rights issues...

    by: Abbas from: USA
    January 24, 2015 6:31 PM
    May God forgive the king for his shortfalls (women's rights, atrocities to foreign labor force, oppression of dissent and minorities, etc.) and reward him for whatever good he did.
    For my part, I will always remember that 1) all but one of 911 perpetrators were from his country; 2) the most intolerant and harsh interpretation of Islam (which has spoiled the reputation of the religion), and funding for insurgency in Syria and Iraq comes from his country and 3) that he was the head of the state when the aforementioned activities were going on. I also remember that his administration led the brutal oppression of rights of majority population in Bahrain.

    by: JohnL
    January 24, 2015 5:58 PM
    These are the same people who took down the world trade center and are financing and encouraging Islamic extremism everywhere. What is the president doing there???? What a fool.
    In Response

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    January 25, 2015 2:22 AM
    Your president is not fool,....he is addicted to oil! just like you!

    by: Sally Wells from: Los Angeles, CA
    January 24, 2015 5:34 PM
    World leaders pay homage to Saudi MONEY.
    That's all.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 24, 2015 4:26 PM
    COULD IT BE, president Obama rushed to the new Saudi King to give Bay'ah, [his oath of allegiance] to him?.... [if he still was a Sunni Muslim?].

    The Saudi King will meet Allah like all Muslims will, and hope Allah recognizes him, otherwise he will be condemned to ignorance and darkness for eternity?.....

    by: Anonymous from: dar es salaam tanzania
    January 24, 2015 2:11 PM
    Innalilah wainnailaih rajiun. May the almight god admit the late king abdulah to janna and give his successor strength to carry foward saudi Arabia inshaalah.

    by: Nadeem from: tanzania
    January 24, 2015 9:55 AM
    may god curse him
    In Response

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    January 26, 2015 6:44 PM
    Yeah Nadeem, shame on you! Show respect for a man that funded and approved the raping and murdering of innocent people. How dare you say anything bad about this terrorist monster!
    In Response

    by: Abdullah Paruk from: Durban, South Africa
    January 26, 2015 3:31 AM
    Really a nasty statement Nadeem. Please control yourself. Respect everyone and see the good they do.
    Comments page of 3

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