Saudi King Abdullah dies aged 90

Published: Friday 23rd January 2015 by The News Editor

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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has died, according to Saudi state TV. He was 90.

The death was announced on Saudi state TV by a presenter who said the king died at 1am local time.

His successor was announced as his 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman, according to a Royal Court statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency.

Prince Salman was King Abdullah’s crown prince and had recently taken on some of the ailing king’s responsibilities.

King Abdullah was a powerful US ally who joined Washington’s fight against al Qaida and sought to modernise the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms, including nudging open greater opportunities for women.

More than his guarded and hidebound predecessors, King Abdullah assertively threw his oil-rich nation’s weight behind trying to shape the Middle East.

His priority was to counter the influence of rival, mainly Shiite Iran wherever it tried to make advances. He and fellow Sunni Arab monarchs also staunchly opposed the Middle East’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings, seeing them as a threat to stability and their own rule.

He backed Sunni Muslim factions against Tehran’s allies in several countries, but in Lebanon for example, the policy failed to stop Iranian-backed Hezbollah from gaining the upper hand.

And Tehran and Riyadh’s colliding ambitions stoked proxy conflicts around the region that enflamed Sunni-Shiite hatreds – most horrifically in Syria’s civil war, where the two countries backed opposing sides.

Those conflicts in turn increased Sunni militancy that returned to threaten Saudi Arabia.

And while the king maintained the historically close alliance with Washington, there were frictions as he sought to put those relations on Saudi Arabia’s terms.

King Abdullah was constantly frustrated by Washington’s failure to broker a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

He also pushed the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran and to more strongly back the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He was born in Riyadh in 1924, one of the dozens of sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. Like all Abdul-Aziz’s sons, he had only rudimentary education.

Tall and heavyset, he felt more at home in the Nejd, the kingdom’s desert heartland, riding stallions and hunting with falcons.

His strict upbringing was exemplified by three days he spent in prison as a young man as punishment by his father for failing to give his seat to a visitor, a violation of Bedouin hospitality.

He was selected as crown prince in 1982 on the day his half-brother Fahd ascended to the throne.

The decision was challenged by a full brother of King Fahd, Prince Sultan, who wanted the title for himself. But the family eventually closed ranks behind him to prevent splits.

He became de facto ruler in 1995 when a stroke incapacitated King Fahd, and rose to throne when King Fahd died in 2005.

King Abdullah had more than 30 children from around a dozen wives.

Published: Friday 23rd January 2015 by The News Editor

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