Sunday, January 25, 2015 12:32 pm
The normally gridlocked streets of the Saudi capital of Riyadh were quiet on Sunday after King Salman declared a day of mourning for his predecessor Abdullah, and more foreign leaders made their way to the kingdom.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean arrived, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was on his way to offer condolences to Salman, who acceded to the throne on Friday after Abdullah’s death at the age of about 90.
US President Barack Obama announced he would cut short a visit to India to travel to the kingdom on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has long been a key United States ally and last year joined the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group.
Obama “called King Salman bin Abdulaziz from Air Force One today to personally express his sympathies”, the White House said on Saturday.
From across the Arab and Muslim worlds, from Europe, Asia, and America, presidents, prime ministers and sheikhs have flown in to pay their respects.
It is a recognition of the conservative Islamic kingdom’s power as the world’s leading oil exporter, a political heavyweight in a region threatened by extremist violence, and as home to Islam’s holiest sites.
Salman, a half-brother of Abdullah who reigned for almost a decade, declared Sunday a nationwide holiday “to provide comfort and facilitation to all citizens in offering condolences” and allegiance to the new monarch, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
– Low-key mourning –
Allegiance ceremonies began on Friday night at a palace in a historic quarter of Riyadh.
Guests rubbed cheeks and kissed the hands of the goateed Salman, 79, and his heir Crown Prince Moqren, 69.
On Saturday, ceremonies moved to the Al-Yamamah Palace, the royal court, where foreign dignitaries greeted Salman and Moqren.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Shiite-dominated Iran was among the guests, making a rare visit as Tehran tries to improve relations with its Sunni regional rival.
Both Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko joined the well-wishers, even as pro-Kremlin rebels announced a major new offensive on a strategic government-held Ukrainian port.
Other guests included French President Francois Hollande, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, European royalty and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron came from Britain.
Outside, a helicopter patrolled overhead and four lanes of cars — everything from luxury Bentleys to everyday models — inched towards the palace grounds carrying Saudi well-wishers past guards with pistols strapped to their thighs.