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Thousands to say farewell to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah
January 23, 2015, 11:15 am

Thousands are expected to gather at the Grand Mosque in Riyadh on Friday to say farewell to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a cautious reformer who succeeded in securing broader freedoms in the conservative kingdom but fell short in gaining greater independence for women.

Abdullah died Friday Riyadh time, several weeks after the state-run Saudi Press Agency said he was suffering from pneumonia and had been admitted to the hospital. The royal court didn't release an exact cause of death. He was 90.

“With great sorrow and grief His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1 a.m. this morning,” the Saudi Royal court statement said.

Funeral prayers will be held later in the day following afternoon prayers at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque in the capital Riyadh, according to the statement.

To ensure a smooth transition, the kingdom quickly appointed his 79-year-old brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz, to the throne.

Ahead of the funeral services -- to be held Friday afternoon at Riyadh's Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque -- condolences and remembrances poured in from all corners of the globe.

"To God we belong and indeed to him we shall return," said the homepage of the English-language Saudi newspaper Arab News on Friday.

World pays tribute to late Saudi King Abdullah

In France a statement by the Elysee palace paid tribute to King Abdullah, hailing “the memory of a statesman whose work has profoundly marked the history of his country.”

It said King Abdullah’s “vision of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East remains more relevant than ever.”

“The head of state expresses his sincere condolences to the Saudi people and expresses his commitment to the friendship between France and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Elysee statement added.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the late king as a man who strengthened inter-religious dialogue in the world.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed the late King as a fierce defender of peace.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to the late king saying a “guiding force” was lost with his departure.

Moroccan King Mohammad VI hailed the King Abdullah as a man who a dedicated his life to service of the Arab world.

Both Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah cut their visits to the World Economic Forum in Davos to attend the funeral of the late Saudi King.

An Egyptian presidency statement said: “The Egyptian people will not forget the historic stances of King Abdullah.”

Meanwhile, leading center for Sunni Islam Al-Azhar paid tribute to the late king, expressing gratitude for his decision to dedicate an “open budget” for the restoration of the centuries-old institution.

The endowment ministry on its part called for absentee funeral prayer in all of the country’s mosques on Friday.

Jordan’s information minister said the Hashemite Kingdom has declared 40 days of mourning and Palestinian President Abbas announced three days of mourning.Israeli conflict. And US Vice President Joe Biden said he will lead a delegation "in the coming days" to pay respects.

"King Abdullah's life spanned from before the birth of modern Saudi Arabia through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations," US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

A cautious reformer

King Abdullah became king of the oil-rich nation, a key US ally in the Middle East, in August 2005. But he had been running Saudi Arabia since 1996, after his half-brother King Fahd's stroke.

In the context of the kingdom's conservative circles, Abdullah was seen as reformer and often came up against the more hard-line clerics.

Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud is heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia and expected to lead the nation after King Abdullah's death. Since ascending to the throne, Abdullah took steps toward broader freedoms and invested some of the country's vast oil wealth in large-scale education and infrastructure projects.

However, resistance from conservative factions hindered some of his efforts, leaving many women in particular disappointed by a lack of progress toward greater independence.

Under Abdullah's leadership, the country slowly squashed al Qaeda, capturing or killing its leaders in the kingdom, forcing the remnants underground and sidelining radical preachers.

It also took a more prominent role in international affairs.

Last year, it became the lead Arab nation in a US -led coalition to eradicate the ultraradical ISIS group in Iraq and Syria.

Analysts are predicting a smooth political transition despite the many challenges facing Saudi Arabia, including Iran, the rise of ISIS, the crisis in Yemen, and the drop in oil prices.

Saudi Arabia has 16% of the world's known oil reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The country is widely seen as the leader of OPEC and has a large influence on energy prices and political stability in the Middle East.

"Remember, the last time the price of oil fell like this, the Soviet Union collapsed," said Zakaria. "That said, the successor is a very competent man."

He added: "I don't expect any major shift, but it marks a big change, and we'll have to see what the new king is like."

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