Saudi Arabia’s new king promised to continue the policies of his predecessors after the death of King Abdullah at the age of 90.
In a nationally televised speech, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud also moved swiftly to name the country’s interior minister as deputy crown prince, making him the second-in-line to the throne.
Salman’s actions came as the oil-rich, Sunni-ruled kingdom began mourning Abdullah, who died after nearly two decades in power, though he officially ascended to the throne in 2005. His royal decree puts Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in line to ascend to the throne after his designated successor, Crown Prince Muqrin.
Mohammed is the son of King Salman’s brother Nayef. Like his father, Nayef, who was a formidable power in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2012, Mohammed is head of the powerful Interior Ministry that oversees police and now too holds the title of crown prince.
“We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” Salman said in the speech aired on the state-run Saudi television station.
Salman also appointed his son, Prince Mohammed, as defence minister. The prince, in his 30s, was head of his father’s royal court when Salman was crown prince.
Salman made an oblique reference to the chaos in the greater Middle East as the extremist Islamic State group now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria. “The Arab and Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion,” he said.
Salman, 79, had increasingly taken on the duties of the king over the past year as his ailing predecessor and half brother, Abdullah, became more incapacitated.
Abdullah was buried following a funeral at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in the capital, Riyadh.
US president Barack Obama described the late Saudi king as a candid leader who had the courage of his convictions, including “his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East”.
The president of the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said Abdullah “generously gave a lot to his people and his nation”, while Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said “the Saudi kingdom and the Arab nation have lost a leader of its best sons”.
Salman served as defence minister since 2011. That made him the head of the military as Saudi Arabia joined the United States and other Arab countries in carrying out airstrikes in Syria in 2014 against the Islamic State group, the Sunni militant group that the kingdom began to see as a threat to its own stability.
Salman takes the helm at a time when the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom and oil powerhouse is trying to navigate social pressures from a burgeoning youth population — over half the population of 20 million is under 25 — seeking jobs and increasingly testing boundaries of speech on the internet, where criticism of the royal family is rife.
Salman’s health has been of concern. He suffered at least one stroke that has left him with limited movement in his left arm.
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