Thousands gathered in the Saudi capital Friday for the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, 90, who had ruled the desert kingdom since 2005. A solemn procession of Saudi men in traditional Arab dress carried Abdullah’s shrouded body from Riyadh’s Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque to a cemetery following an afternoon prayer service, reported CNN. The monarch passed away early Friday, several weeks after he was reportedly admitted to a hospital for a bout of pneumonia.
World leaders flocked to Riyadh to pay their respects to the ruler, with a number of Arab leaders cutting short their visits to the World Economic Forum in Davos to fly to Saudi Arabia for the funeral, according to Al Arabiya. The attendees at the funeral included Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, as well as Kuwait and Qatar’s emirs.
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Abdullah was seen as a cautious reformer in the kingdom, where powerful hardline clerics continue to exercise influence over the government’s policies. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the king took on the clerical class, pushing reforms to school curriculums and a crackdown on intolerant messages at mosques, reported Reuters. Though his reforms were slow, the leader became popular among the country’s increasingly young population, where 60 percent of Saudis are under the age of 30.
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His successor, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, indicated that he would not seek to implement any major shifts in policy in the country. “We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” said Salman in his first address after his accession to the throne on Friday, reported the Washington Post. The new Saudi leader also called for unity and solidarity among Muslim and Arab nations in the address. Salman, 79, faces a number of challenges, including the kingdom’s ongoing war of influence with rival Iran as well as the threat from Islamist militants in the region.