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Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has died

The elderly king died in hospital.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

KING ABDULLAH BIN Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has died. He was 90 years old.

His death was confirmed by a royal court statement on Thursday night.

It is understood his half brother, Crown Prince Salman, will ascend the throne.

King Abdullah had been admitted to hospital on New Year’s Eve suffering with pneumonia.

BBC News says that Saudi television stations cut programming and broadcast Koranic verses as a sign that a senior royal had died.

Abdullah became king in 2005. He has been described as a patient reformer who tried to rid Saudi of the influence of hardline Islamists.

Using oil wealth, he launched projects to build new economic cities, universities and high-speed railway with an aim to turn the country into a moderate, constructive partner in global politics.

n 2011, Abdullah withstood the convulsions of the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted several leaders in the region, splashing out from vast surpluses of cash to try to keep people content.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has been among several Gulf countries taking part in a US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria.

But over the years, Abdullah’s age and commitment to consensus allowed entrenched conservatives to resist his reforms, amid a lack of clarity about the future path of the monarchy.

His kingdom is still strongly criticised for a dismal human rights record, including the imprisonment of dissidents.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive.

Women are required to dress in black from head to toe and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its use of the death penalty, usually by beheading, despite repeated appeals from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.

With AFP

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