Saudi Arabia’s new king promised Friday to continue the policies of his predecessors in a nationally televised speech, taking control of the kingdom after the death of its 90-year-old ruler.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s comments come as the oil-rich, Sunni-ruled kingdom began mourning King Abdullah, who died early Friday after nearly two decades in power.
“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 2 television station.
Salman also made an oblique reference to the chaos gripping the greater Middle East as the extremist group now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.
“The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion,” the king 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 is expected to be buried Friday afternoon following a funeral at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in the capital, Riyadh.
Leaders from around the world expressed their condolences.
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 and beyond.”
The president of the neighboring United Arab Emirates, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said in a statement that Abdullah “generously gave a lot to his people and his nation,” while Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al Sissi said “the Saudi kingdom and the Arab nation have lost a leader of its best sons.”
Salman has served as defense 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 Daesh, the militant group that the kingdom began to see as a threat to its own stability. He is expected to relinquish that post now that he is king.
He 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.