Saudi Arabia's new leader, King Abdullah, has been receiving audiences of citizens pledging their allegiance to him in a traditional investiture ceremony. King Abdullah also met with several foreign leaders on Wednesday.
Saudi religious leaders, tribal chiefs and government officials gathered in Riyadh to formally declare their loyalty to the new monarch. Many of them waited their turn to file by the new king, shake his hand, and swear their allegiance to him. King Abdullah made brief remarks at what amounted to a Saudi coronation, telling his audience that he will continue the policies of his late predecessor and half-brother King Fahd, who died on Monday.
Dignitaries from around the world, including French President Jacques Chirac, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, and Britain's Prince Charles, also met with the new king to express their condolences over the passing of his brother who was buried on Tuesday in a simple Islamic ceremony, from which non-Muslims were barred. King Abdullah, who has been Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler since 1995, when King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke, is known among his subjects as a fair and unpretentious man.
Diplomats in Riyadh say the king is expected to solidify his country's ties with the West, while continuing to deepen Saudi Arabia's relationship with the Arab world, where he commands wide respect as a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause.
The transition from one king to another has been smooth. The succession was settled long ago by a council of the royal family, but King Abdullah faces challenges in the years ahead. The most visible of these challenges is terrorism linked to al-Qaida. For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has been battling a small number of well-armed militants, intent on deposing the monarchy and driving out Western residents.
King Abdullah is expected to continue his government's crackdown on the militants. But he now has full authority to also tackle corruption as well as extravagance among members of the Royal family. That will be unpopular with some princes, but is seen as a necessary step in gradually bringing reforms to a deeply traditional country.
Diplomats say the King must also create jobs for thousands of restless university graduates, begin weaning the Saudi economy off its total dependence on oil, and try to satisfy the desire of many Saudis for a wider role in the country's political life.