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World leaders descend on UAE to pay respects to late ruler

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – An array of presidents and prime ministers continued to descend on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday from around the world to pay their respects to the federation’s late ruler. They also came to meet his successor, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – a vivid sign of Abu Dhabi’s influence in Western and Arab capitals.

The first Western leader to jet to the oil-rich emirate was French President Emmanuel Macron.

He met yesterday with Sheikh Mohammed to pay tribute to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the long-ailing ruler who died on Friday at the age of 73 after years presiding over the country’s rapid transformation into a global business hub and regional power center.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived later to offer condolences. An American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris is due to visit the UAE today, a bid to ease tensions and show support as relations between the countries have strained under President Joe Biden.

“He was respected by all for the values of peace, openness and dialogue that he embodied,” Macron wrote on Twitter of Sheikh Khalifa, expressing “full support” for the ascension of his half-brother Sheikh Mohammed after rulers in the federation unanimously appointed him as president. As crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed has served as the nation’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014.

He has turned the small UAE – population 10 million – into an influential state. With Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars and substantial military along with Dubai’s major firms and glitzy hotels, the UAE has come to wield outsized power across the Middle East and Africa.

Paris and Abu Dhabi have become increasingly aligned in recent years, sharing a deep mistrust of extremist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, including in Turkey and Libya.

France opened a major overseas naval base in Abu Dhabi. French warplanes and personnel are also stationed at a facility outside the Emirati capital. The two governments jointly built a gleaming branch of the Louvre museum in the emirate.

Sheikh Mohammed’s assertive foreign policy in the Arab world was on stark display as allied leaders rushed to the capital on Saturday to express sorrow over Sheikh Khalifa’s death and congratulate Sheikh Mohammed on his formal ascension to power.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets newly-elected president of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. PHOTO: AP