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Middle East

U.A.E. picks Sheikh Khalifa as president

The United Arab Emirates appointed Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan as its president Wednesday, hours after burying his father, the much-loved Sheikh Zayed, in a funeral that drew dozens of Arab and Muslim leaders and thousands of grieving Emiratis.

The succession was decided by the Supreme Council, which comprises the leaders of the seven constituent emirates, their brothers and their crown princes, the official news agency WAM reported.

Sheikh Khalifa is the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed, the founding president who died on Tuesday night at the age of 86. He has been the crown prince of Abu Dhabi since 1969 and is seen as a competent administrator and an expert on oil.

"The Supreme Council of the Emirates held a meeting and unanimously elected Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, as the president of the state," WAM reported.

Sheikh Khalifa automatically became ruler of Abu Dhabi on his father's death. Prime Minister Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a close relative of Sheikh Zayed, had briefly taken the reigns during the transition.

Arab dignitaries who attended Wednesday's funeral included Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Jordan's King Abdullah, Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar and Premier Iyad Allawi, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Oman's Sultan Qabous, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Kuwaiti Premier Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah. Egypt was represented by Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as President Hosni Mubarak is visiting Germany. Iran, which has a territorial dispute with the U.A.E., sent First Vice President Mohammed Reza Arif.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika went to Abu Dhabi and paid their respects.

Britain's Prince Charles and Prince Andrew also arrived to offer condolences.

Earlier Wednesday, thousands of Emiratis and foreigners lined streets, straining to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession amid tight security, with helicopters criss-crossing overhead at low altitude. Police in the streets controled the crowd.

Sheikh Zayed's body was later moved to its final resting place at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

"It is impossible to express how important Sheikh Zayed was to us. He was a father and a guardian who protected the rights of both locals and expats," said Muslim cleric Sheikh Sabri. "He was the best of all the Arab and Muslim rulers."

The government declared all state offices would close for eight days and businesses would shut for three. Flags flew at half-staff across the Emirates for 40 days of mourning.

The president had been ailing for several years. He had a kidney transplant in 2000, and had kept out of the public eye in recent years. The government did not give the cause of his death.

In Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sheikh Zayed stood both at home and abroad "as a symbol of benevolent and wise leadership characterized by generosity, tolerance, and avid pursuit of development and modernization."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder described Sheikh Zayed as "a good and reliable partner and a person we will miss.

"The stability that this created has effects far beyond the U.A.E.," he said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was to fly to the Emirates late Wednesday to pay his condolences.

Sheikh Zayed became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, four years after the emirate began exporting the oil it had discovered off its shores. In 1971, he played a leading role in the process by which the seven emirates forged a union and took independence from Britain.

He also forged close ties with the United States and the West.

Today, the U.A.E. - with a population of around 850,000 Emiratis and 2.6 million foreign expatriates and workers - is a leading member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It is the world's ninth leading oil producer and fifth-largest exporter.

Sheikh Khalifa, 56, has been increasingly running the U.A.E.

He heads Abu Dhabi's Supreme Petroleum Council, which drafts oil policy, and is deputy supreme commander of the armed forces.

The pro-Western modernizes also heads the U.A.E.'s economic body. - Agencies

 

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