In Brief

King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's 'cautious reformer', dies at 90

Prince Charles and US Vice President Joe Biden expected to visit Saudi Arabia to pay their respects

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, seen as a moderate reformer in one of the world's most conservative countries, died today at the age of 90.

The exact cause of death has not been confirmed, but Saudi press say he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia at the end of December.

Abdullah officially ascended to the throne in August 2005, putting him in control of a fifth of the world's known petroleum reserves and custodian of Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina.

However, he had effectively been in charge of the kingdom since his half-brother, King Fahd, had a stroke in 1995.

He will be succeeded by another half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, aged 79.

Prince Charles and US Vice President Joe Biden are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay their condolences.

In a statement, President Barack Obama spoke of a "genuine and warm friendship" with Abdullah. "As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions," he said.

David Cameron, who visited Saudi Arabia in 2012, said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of Abdullah's death.

"He will be remembered for his long years of service to the kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths," said the Prime Minister.

Despite Saudi Arabia facing international criticism for its human right record, Abdullah was seen by many in his home country as a force for moderate change.

He pushed through "cautious reforms", such as giving women a greater public role, despite opposition from religious conservatives, says The Guardian.

However, the newspaper points out that Saudi women are still not allowed to drive, that political parties are still banned and that public beheadings still play a standard part of the judicial system.

The king was married at least 13 times, although kept no more than four wives at once, and leaves behind around 30 sons and daughters.

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