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World leaders remember King Abdullah as 'Islam-West mediator'

RIYADH: World leaders paid tribute to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Friday, praising the late monarch as a key mediator between Muslims and the West.

US President Barack Obama said he and Abdullah, whose country has for decades been a strategic ally of Washington, had enjoyed a “genuine and warm friendship”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Abdullah, who died in a Riyadh hospital earlier the same day, as a “wise politician”.

Shiite Iran, the Sunni kingdom’s main regional adversary, sent condolences to the Saudi people and announced its foreign minister would travel to Riyadh for an “official ceremony” this weekend.

Abdullah, who officially took power in 2005, guided his country through a turbulent decade in the region, with neighbours Iraq and Yemen wracked with insecurity after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the growth of Islamic radicalism.

French President Francois Hollande said Abdullah’s vision of “a fair and durable peace in the Middle East remains truer than ever.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the late king as “an ardent defender of peace”.

And the foreign ministry in Spain hailed Abdullah as “a respected figure throughout the Middle East for his willingness to help resolve conflicts”.

– ‘Fair and moderate’ –

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Saudi ruler would be remembered for “his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths”.

Prince Charles of Wales is to travel to Riyadh as The Queen’s representative to pay his respects, the royal’s office said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Abdullah’s rule had been “fair and moderate”, praising him for aiding “dialogue between the Muslim world and the West”.

In the Middle East, Lebanon, which has close ties with Riyadh, spoke of losing “a defender and a partner” who had stood by Beirut “in difficult times”.

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi said the king “ensured… support for causes of justice, peace and development in the Arab, Muslim and entire world”.

His country joined Algeria and Mauritania in announcing three days of mourning, while Cairo said its official grieving would run for a whole week.

Several leaders cut short overseas trips to travel to Riyadh and pay their respects.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II left the World Economic Forum in Davos, organisers said, before declaring 40 days of mourning for the late Saudi king.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin praised Abdullah as an “exemplary leader… with sound judgement”.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of mourning, describing the late monarch as a “sage.”

“With much sadness, we received the news of the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, a loss to the Arab and Islamic world,” Abbas said in a statement.

– ‘Insensitive to human rights’ –

Not everyone was complementary of Abdullah, with advocacy groups criticising Saudi Arabia’s much-maligned human rights record.

“The Saudi regime seems insensitive to human rights and human dignity and unfortunately they are also protected by many Western countries,” Amnesty International head Salil Shetty told AFP.

Human Rights Watch also criticised the slow process of reform under Abdullah.

“King Abdullah came to power promising reforms, but his agenda fell far short of achieving lasting institutional gains on basic rights for Saudi citizens,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Abdullah had contributed “to strengthening cooperation and solidarity in the Muslim world, especially concerning the Palestinian question and the situation in syria”.

At the Asian Cup in Australia, the national football team of the United Arab Emirates donned black armbands for their match against Japan.

Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Razak called Abdullah a “great leader for his initiative for inter-religious dialogue”, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pointed to Saudi involvement in his country’s peace negotiations.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, paid tribute to a man who “brought prosperity and reforms to his nation”. -AFP

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