x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

World leaders to pay their respects to late Saudi prince

International dignitaries were expected to begin arriving in Saudi Arabia to offer condolences over the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

RIYADH // International dignitaries were expected to begin arriving in Saudi Arabia yesterday to offer condolences for the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose successor has yet to be named.

Joe Biden, the US vice president, the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak were among the world leaders heading to the Saudi capital to offer condolences.

Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, had declared three days of mourning starting on Monday, during which time flags were to fly at half-mast at in the UAE.

The body of Prince Sultan, who died on Saturday in a New York hospital, was expected to be repatriated to Riyadh for a subdued funeral today, in line with Islamic traditions applied in the kingdom.

It is the first time that the seat of the heir to the throne becomes vacant in the history of the Gulf state.

Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother of King Abdullah and the kingdom's internal security chief, who has held the interior portfolio for over three decades, has been touted as the most likely heir.

King Abdullah, who is also the prime minister, had in 2009 appointed Prince Nayef, 78, as second deputy premier, in a move interpreted as putting him in line for the throne.

Prince Sultan was the second deputy prime minister until the then Crown Prince Abdullah acceded to the throne in 2005.

His death comes also after King Abdullah created in 2006 the Allegiance Council, comprises 35 princes charged with deciding together with the reigning king who will be crown prince.

Relations between the Sunni-dominated kingdom and Shiite Iran, its arch rival across the Gulf, have been tense following an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the kingdom's envoy to Washington.

Saudi Arabia has also kept a close eye on developments in neighbouring Bahrain and Yemen, as well as other countries hit by the Arab Spring.

Except for small protests by the Shiite minority in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia was largely spared from the wave of popular protest movements, which has so far unseated three Arab leaders.

Prince Nayef, who mobilised his servicemen to prevent the winds of change from buffeting the kingdom, publicly thanked Saudis for ignoring calls for demonstrations.

He also led a campaign against Islamist militants in the Gulf monarchy after it suffered a string of deadly attacks by Al Qaeda between 2003 and 2006.