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New Saudi king seeks unity among Arab, Islamic nations

An image grab taken from Saudi state TV on January 23, 2015 shows Saudi mourners praying over the body of their late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)As Saudis mourned the death of King Abdullah and world leaders paid their respects, newly enthroned King Salman pledged Friday to continue the policies of his predecessors while calling for unity among Arab and Islamic nations at a time of regional unrest.”The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion,” the king said in his first speech after succeeding his half-brother, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.Abdullah, who was hospitalized with pneumonia in December, died early Friday at the age of 90.Salman’s call for unity was a clear response to the unrest fomented by the rise of the militant Islamic State in large parts of Syria and Iraq.But Salman, the 79-year-old head of a key U.S. ally, pledged no abrupt policy changes.”We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” he said.The one-time defense minister had increasingly taken on the duties of the king over the past year as Abdullah became more incapacitated. Abdullah, the force behind OPEC and a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, officially ascended to the throne in 2005, but had been de-facto ruler for years before that.Last SlideNext SlideAbdullah was buried Friday afternoon following a funeral at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in the capital, Riyadh. Muslim dignitaries from around the world began arriving in Riyadh for the funeral, under heavy guard.State television aired images of the prayer ahead of his burial, which showed the king’s body shrouded in a simple beige cloth in line with Islamic tradition.President Obama said in a statement it was “with deep respect that I express my personal condolences and the sympathies of the American people” to the king’s family and all Saudis.He noted that the king’s life “spanned from before the birth of modern Saudi Arabia through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations.”He praised Abdullah for his “bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative,” which Obama said “will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has died. He was a powerful U.S. ally who joined Washington’s fight against al-Qaida. He’s also credited with attempting to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms. (Jan. 2
APObama said he always valued Abdullah’s perspective “and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship. As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions.”Vice President Joe Biden will lead a presidential delegation to Saudi Arabia to offer condolences.Internally, Salman also moved quickly to demonstrate unity within the royal family that has controlled the country for six decades, naming Abdullah’s half-brother Moqren, 69, as crown prince.He also charted a new path by naming his nephew, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince, making him second-in-line to the throne. Mohammed is the first grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, to be named as a future heir.USATODAYKing Abdullah of Saudi ArabiaSalman also appointed his son, Prince Mohammed, as defense minister. The prince, among Salman’s most favored sons, is in his 30s and was head of his father’s royal court when Salman was crown prince.It was a symbolic recognition of the thinning — and aging — ranks of the sons of King Abdul-Aziz, who provided the line of succession since his death in 1953.Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States had “lost a friend” with Abdullah’s death. He commended the king for investing in Saudi Arabia’s people, infrastructure and economic development.”Even as he battled age and illness, he held on to his sense of determination,” Kerry said in a statement. “He was so proud of the Kingdom’s journey, a brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace.”Former President George H. W. Bush said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend and partner King Abdullah.”He called the monarch “a wise and reliable ally, helping our nations build on a strategic relationship and enduring friendship.””Of course, following the invasion of Kuwait, I will never forget the way Saudi Arabia and the United States stood together against a common foe — marking a moment of unparalleled cooperation between two great nations.”Some Islamic militants and their supporters, however, celebrated Abdullah’s death on social media Friday, many of them describing him as a “servant” of the Americans who conspired with the West to kill Muslims.A man who identifies himself as an Islamic State supporter who uses the name Abu Azzam al-Najdi criticized the late king on Twitter, saying: “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.”Abdullah was known for having tried to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom, including small but important steps to create more opportunities for women. Obama noted that his “vision” was “dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.”He was no advocate for democracy, however. He and his fellow Sunni Muslim monarchs saw popular uprisings as threats to their lock on power, and they fought to keep the “Arab Spring” from reaching the Gulf.His biggest focus was limiting the influence of Saudi Arabia’s main Middle East rival, mainly Shiite Iran. Abdullah also maneuvered to keep the radical Islamic State from posing a direct threat to the House of Saud.As the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques — his official title — he often pushed back against Washington, earning him a reputation of being less pro-American than his predecessors. Saudi experts said it was undeserved.”His reputation as anti-American is absolutely untrue,” the late James Akins, a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, once said.The king’s death leaves Queen Elizabeth II as the world’s oldest-living monarch. Next month she hits her 63rd anniversary on the throne, and on Sept. 10 she will pass Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch. Victoria is her great-great grandmother.Contributing: Barbara Slavin and Jessica Estepa, USA TODAY; Associated Press.

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