World leaders in Riyadh pay tribute to late king

Monday, January 26, 2015
King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud

Riyadh: World leaders have begun arriving in Saudi Arabia to offer condolences following the death of King Abdullah, with U.S. President Barack Obama cutting short a trip to India to pay his respects.

The White House said Obama had been scheduled to visit the Taj Mahal as part of his tour itinerary but cancelled that following the death of Abdullah and will now travel to Riyadh on January 27 to meet the new monarch, King Salman.

Other dignitaries arrived in Riyadh on January 24 to pay their respects, including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Despite deep tensions and rivalries between the nations, Zarif was among the first to arrive in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, where he was greeted at the airport by the late king's son, Prince Turki, who is governor of Riyadh. Saudi state TV showed Zarif walking with the prince down a red carpet on the tarmac.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also landed in Saudi Arabia, accompanied by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

French and Ukrainian presidents Francois Hollande and Petro Poroshenko, and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among other leaders who flew in to offer condolences.

The kings of Sweden and Netherlands, Carl XVI Gustaf, and Willem-Alexander, and Britain's Prince Charles also arrived in Riyadh on January 24. 

Russia sent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to represent it.

Abdullah was a cautious reformer who led the Gulf state through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and Islamic extremism.

He died on January 23 after being hospitalized with pneumonia. His exact age is not known, but he was believed to be around 90 years old. 

World leaders have praised the king as a key mediator between Muslims and the West, but campaigners criticized his rights record and urged Salman to do more to protect freedom of speech and women's rights.

Regional leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, were among those who attended Abdullah's traditionally simple funeral at Riyadh's Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque on January 23.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak arrived later on January 23 to deliver condolences, as did Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

US President Barack Obama who is on India trip will fly to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday (January 27) to pay his respect to King Abdullah following his demise. 

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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