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Saudi Arabia’s new king inherits immediate challenges

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who died Thursday at the age of 90, was laid to rest in Riyadh. The new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, pledged continuity with his brother's policies. Judy Woodruff remembers the late monarch’s rule.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    New leaders took their places today in Saudi Arabia, in the wake of King Abdullah's passing. His death came as the world's leading oil state, and home to Islam's holiest sites, faces unparalleled challenges from within and without.

    It was a simple funeral for one of the world's richest and most powerful men. King Abdullah's remains lay beneath a cloth covering, as Muslim leaders paid their respects. Later, hundreds gathered at a Riyadh cemetery as he was buried in an unmarked grave, in accordance with Islamic tradition.

    Earlier, the new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, pledged continuity with his brother's policies.

  • KING SALMAN, Saudi Arabia (through interpreter):

    We extend our condolences to the loyal nation of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Arab and Muslim nations, for the loss of our great man. Our nation mostly needs unity these days. And we will continue, God willing, in our efforts to unite and defend our nation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Abdullah died Thursday, at the age of 90. He'd served as the country's ruler effectively for 20 years, the first decade while his half-brother, King Fahd, was in poor health. Then, at Fahd's death in 2005, Abdullah became king in his own right.

    He ruled a land rife with social pressures. Roughly half of the kingdom's 20 million people are under the age of 25. And despite great oil wealth, many lack jobs, housing or education. So, Abdullah pressed limited reforms, including a $90 billion economic program in 2011. And in a land dominated by a strict brand of Islam, he opened a university that allowed men and women to share classrooms, and he allowed women to enter political life.

  • KING ABDULLAH, Saudi Arabia (through interpreter):

    Because we refuse to marginalize the role of women in every aspect of Saudi society within Sharia boundaries, we have decided the following, firstly, the participation of women in the Shura Council as a member beginning from the next term. Secondly, a woman now has the right to announce her candidacy to become a member of the local municipality councils.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Still, Abdullah never gave in to demands for women to drive, and he suppressed dissent after the 2011 Arab spring, and allowed public beheadings and flogging.

    Abroad, the Saudi ruler expanded the reach of his Sunni kingdom, supporting the military coup in Egypt and the Sunni ruler in Bahrain against Shiite protesters. In Syria, he aided rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, who's backed by Shiite Iran.

    And he sought to maintain close relations with the United States, helping in the fight against Islamic State militants and cracking down on al-Qaida and its sympathizers.

    Abdullah explained his views on such groups before the U.N. General Assembly in 2008.

  • KING ABDULLAH (through interpreter):

    The problems of the world are caused by people rejecting the principles of justice. Terrorism and crime are the enemies of God and every religion and civilization.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In online postings today, supporters of both al-Qaida and the Islamic State cheered Abdullah's death and painted him as a U.S. puppet.

    But Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in glowing terms in Davos, Switzerland.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: And I was privileged to spend many hours with the king, as a senator and particularly over the last two years. I saw him a few months ago. He was obviously not well, but he was courageous, great sense of humor, even in the midst of all the crises.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The crises fall now to King Salman, who's 79. He's already moving to ensure the line of succession, naming his 69-year-old half-brother, Muqrin, as crown prince, and his nephew, Mohammed bin Naif, age 55, as second in line.

    Salman faces the immediate challenge of Yemen, on his southern border, where the government has fallen to Shiite rebels. The world's top oil-exporting state must also deal with the loss of revenues from plunging oil prices.

    We will talk to former top officials under two presidents about the Saudi situation and its broader implications after the news summary.

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