Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi Arabia buried His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Friday as foreign leaders gathered in the capital for the funeral of the ruler of the world’s top oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.
Abdullah, a cautious reformer who led his kingdom through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and extremism, died early Friday aged about 90.
He was replaced by his half-brother His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who moved quickly to strengthen his administration.
Salman joined Gulf rulers and leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a funeral service at Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque.
Abdullah’s shrouded body was borne on a simple litter by members of the royal family wearing traditional red-and-white checked shemagh head gear.
The body was quickly moved to nearby al-Od public cemetery where it was buried.
Citizens were invited to pledge allegiance to Salman at the royal palace.
Another of the late monarch’s half-brothers, Moqren, was named crown prince.
In his first public statement as the new ruler, 79-year-old King Salman vowed to “remain, with Allah the Almighty’s strength, attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment”.
He called in televised remarks for “unity and solidarity” among Muslims and vowed to work in “the defence of the causes of our nation”.
Moving quickly to clear uncertainty over the transition to the next generation, Salman named the interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as second in line to the throne.
He also appointed one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed, as defence minister.
Officials did not disclose the cause of Abdullah’s death, but the late king had been hospitalised in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a tube.
Under Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, Saudi Arabia has been a key ally of Washington in the Arab world, most recently joining the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
US President Barack Obama was quick to pay tribute to Abdullah as a “valued” ally.
“The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy,” Obama said in a statement shortly after the monarch’s death.
US Vice President Joe Biden said on Twitter he would lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia “to pay respect and offer condolences”.
Other tributes came in from foreign leaders, with French President Francois Hollande hailing Abdullah as “a statesman whose work profoundly marked the history of his country”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “deeply saddened” and that Abdullah would be remembered for “his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”
As the top producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia has been the driving force behind the cartel’s refusal to slash output to support oil prices, which have fallen by more than 50 per cent since June.
But prices surged Friday, amid uncertainty over whether the new king would maintain that policy.
The International Energy Agency’s chief economist said he did not foresee major policy shifts.
“I do not expect any significant change in the oil policy of Saudi Arabia and I expect and hope that they will continue to be a stabilisation factor in the oil markets,” Fatih Birol told AFP in Davos, Switzerland.