World leaders in Saudi Arabia to pay tribute to late king – BBC News

Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2015

French President Francois Hollande (R) is welcomed by the Governor of the Riyadh Province, Turki bin Abdullah al-Saud (L) upon his arrival at Riyadh airport on 24 January 2015French President Francois Hollande arrived in Riyadh on Saturday

World leaders have gathered in Saudi Arabia to pay their respects following the death of King Abdullah on Friday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande are among those in the capital, Riyadh. A US delegation, led by President Barack Obama, will arrive on Tuesday.

The dignitaries from more than 10 countries are due to meet the new ruler, King Salman.

He has pledged continuity in the country’s foreign and energy policies.

He moved swiftly to appoint heirs and ministers, including one prince from the ruling dynasty’s third generation.

Spain's King Felipe VI being welcomed by the Governor of Riyadh Province, Turki bin Abdullah al-Saud after arriving at the airport in Riyadh on 24 January 2015Spain’s King Felipe VI was met by the Governor of Riyadh, Turki bin Abdullah al-Saud

Mourners bury the body of the late Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, during his funeral in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 23 January 2015The late king was buried in an unmarked grave

The BBC’s Jonny Dymond says the long list of dignitaries travelling to Riyadh is testament to Saudi Arabia’s global standing.

Iran was being represented by its Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The UK’s Prince Charles, King Felipe VI of Spain and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik were among the royals offering their condolences.

King Abdullah died on Friday, weeks after being admitted to hospital with a lung infection.

Gulf leaders, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the funeral.

Saudi royal guards stand on duty in front of portraits of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (R), Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (C) and second deputy Prime Minister Muqrin bin Abdulaziz during the traditional Saudi dance known as "Arda" at the Janadriya culture festival at Der"iya in Riyadh, in this file picture taken February 18, 2014

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Why Saudi matters – in 90 seconds

US President Barack Obama paid tribute to Abdullah as a leader who “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions”. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Abdullah’s work “to promote dialogue among the world’s faiths”.

However, human rights groups said Saudi Arabia’s human rights record had been dismal under Abdullah and urged Salman to do more to protect freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Amnesty International spokesman Neil Durkin described Abdullah’s human rights legacy as “disastrous”, saying that “endemic torture in police cells and in prisons” remained.

King Abdullah came to the throne in 2005 but had already been Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader for 10 years because his predecessor, King Fahd, had been debilitated by a stroke.

Abdullah had suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years, and King Salman had recently taken on the ailing monarch’s responsibilities.


Analysis: Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

In Saudi terms, King Abdullah was a reformer, making princes pay their phone bills and giving women their first ever seats in the high-level consultative council. The new King Salman, a staunch conservative, has put paid to any thoughts of radical reforms on his watch with his first speech as monarch.

Saudi Arabia faces a number of challenges. The first is ensuring the succession passes smoothly. Then there is the ongoing threat from jihadists, both at home and across its borders – Saudi Arabia is sandwiched between the Islamic State (IS) group to the north and al-Qaeda in Yemen to the south.

The government has yet to find a way to cope with mild calls for reforms, and is abusing anti-terror laws to silence reformers and punish its critics.

Longer term, it faces a growing unemployment problem. About half the population is under 25 and there are not enough meaningful jobs for young Saudis.

But the country does at least have oil in its favour. Saudi Arabia is one of the very few exporting countries to still make big margins on production and exploration – putting it in a powerful position on the world stage.

Analysis: Turbulent times ahead

Viewpoints: King Abdullah’s legacy

Profile: King Salman

Regional media express grief


Saudi family tree


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