Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who maintained strong relations with the West and joined in the fight against terrorism, has died and his brother Salman has become king.
The king, whose age was believed to be 91, will be laid to rest after the noon prayer on Friday in the city of Riyadh at the Mosque of Turke al Abdullah. Following the funeral there will be a three-day period for condolences, state-run Saudi television said.
“His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1 am this morning (2200 GMT Thursday),” a statement by the royal court said.
Shortly before the death announcement was made Saudi television cut its programmes and broadcast verses from the Koran signalling that a high ranking official had died.
The broadcaster announced that Abdullah’s brother, Salman, 79, has become king. He has been crown prince and defence minister since 2012 and served as a governor of Riyadh province for almost five decades.
King Salman is described by observers as a “tough man with strong personality and a leader who follows humanitarian issues across the kingdom.”
It added that King Salman has called on the royal family’s council to pay allegiance to Muqrin, the late king’s half brother, as his crown prince.
King Abdullah, who ascended to the throne in 2005, had been in hospital for several weeks suffering from a lung infection. The king had been admitted to the King Abdulaziz Medical City of the National Guard in Riyadh in December.
Born in Riyadh, Abdullah was one of several sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. King Abdullah had been a main supporter of the Syrian uprising, which started against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, and also a main backer of the Palestinian cause.
According to Saudi analysts, the new king will face political and economic challenges.
“Some of the political challenges would be fighting terrorism and protecting the Saudi citizens from these threats and maintaining good relations with the west,” Abdallah al Otteibi, a Saudi analyst said.
“The new king will continue to lead the war against terrorism and will try to maintain the kingdom’s key role in the Arab region,” said al Otteibi in comments to the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.
Meanwhile, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has announced a three-day mourning period for the death of King Abdullah. An Egyptian presidential statement said that the “Egyptian people will not forget the historic stances of the late king.”
Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has cut short his visit to Switzerland and head to Saudi Arabia after the announcement was made. The late king supported the 2013 military coup in Egypt, which ousted the Muslim Brotherhood and brought former army chief al-Sissi to power.
The first reaction on the death of the Saudi King from outside the region came from the United States, where US President Barack Obama expressed his condolences to the family and the people of Saudi Arabia.
“The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy,” Obama says. SAPA