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January 23, 2015 10:49 am

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia Dies

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US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in June 2014. Photo: U.S. Department of State. – King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 90 after spending several weeks in the hospital with pneumonia. His half-brother, Deputy Prime Minister Salman bin Abdul Aziz, was proclaimed the new king of Saudi Arabia immediately after Abdullah’s death.

“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 (5 p.m. Thursday EST),” Saudi state television said in a statement.

In 2005, King Abdullah took over the Saudi throne from his brother King Fahd. Since then, he has developed a reputation as a reformer king who wanted his country to develop deeper relations with the international community.

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In a statement on Abdullah’s death, US President Barack Obama praised his “steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

Republican leaders also praised the late Saudi king. Former President George H.W. Bush called King Abdullah a “wise and reliable ally,” and US Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the king “pushed for the modernization of the [Saudi] education system, curbed the authority of the religious police, and extended women the right to vote and run in municipal elections.”

“[Abdullah] was also a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East and standing as a critical partner in the war on terror,” said McCain.

But King Abdullah’s tenure was not without controversy. Women do not have the right to drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia, and just earlier this week, cell phone footage was released showing the country’s practice of publicly decapitating people as punishment for crimes. Eighty-seven people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2014, mostly through the decapitations, CNN reported.

Saudi Arabia has also been accused of exporting its Wahhabi Islamic philosophy to radical terror groups such as the Islamic State.

“ISIS (Islamic State)… is a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money, and Saudi organizational support, although now they are making a pretense of being very anti-ISIS. That’s like the parent turning on the wayward or out-of-control child,” former US Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said earlier this month, Newsweek reported.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Saudi Arabia blamed Israeli “occupation” for the global rise in antisemitism at the first-ever informal United Nations conference addressing antisemitism.

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