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Mourners pay tribute to King Fahd; Crown Prince Abdullah takes throne
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- King Fahd was laid to rest in an unmarked desert grave Tuesday after his body, wrapped in a simple brown robe, was borne from a prayer service by his sons. Vice President Dick Cheney and other world leaders headed to Saudi Arabia to pay condolences and honor Crown Prince Abdullah's ascension to the throne as the sixth king of the wealthy oil power.
As gun-toting anti-terrorist forces surveyed the scene, Saudis lined up after the burial to pay respects to the 81-year-old new monarch, a day before tribal leaders, clerics and officials swear loyalty to King Abdullah in a traditional Islamic investiture ceremony.
Western leaders -- including Cheney, Britain's Prince Charles and France's Jacques Chirac -- were expected to meet with Abdullah separately Wednesday to congratulate him and express their condolences for Fahd's death.
Abdullah, the de facto ruler over the past decade during Fahd's illness, has worked to seal a bond with President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks strained U.S.-Saudi ties. He has cracked down on al-Qaida-linked militants in the last two years and begun initial steps of democratic reform.
A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said, "Right now, our main focus is on continuing the good work that we've done with the Saudi government and moving forward in our relationship under Saudi's new leadership."
The investiture ceremony -- an Islamic tradition known as "bayah" -- will seal what the Saudi royal family has been eager to show as a swift and orderly handover of power, the first in 23 years, in a kingdom beset by worries over the future.
Security was tight during Tuesday's funeral for Fahd, who died Monday at age 84. Security forces with automatic weapons, backed by armored vehicles, lined up outside the Turki bin Abdullah Mosque where a prayer for the dead was held before the burial. The neighborhood was closed off and shops shut.
Security agents in green berets circulated among the heads of states from Islamic nations and Saudi princes who packed the mosque in Riyadh. Mourners were asked to leave their prayer rugs outside as they entered the mosque, where they were given others to use.
Snipers overlooked the cemetery where Fahd's body was buried.
Austerity was the theme for the ceremonies for one of the world's richest monarchs, who had multiple palaces in Saudi Arabia, Europe and the Middle East. Ceremonies were simple, despite the presence of royals -- including Jordan's King Abdullah II, the emirs of Persian Gulf nations and the sultan of Brunei -- and presidents of Islamic and Arab powerhouses like Egypt, Syria and Pakistan.
Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremonies.
Abdullah and about 300 male relatives, some carrying colorful umbrellas to ward off the punishing sun, gathered for the burial at al-Oud cemetery, a desert plain with patches of brush among piles of dirt and small uninscribed stones to mark graves.
Mourners were silent as Fahd's sons lowered his body into the grave. The dead king was wrapped only in a white shroud. His plain brown cloak was removed before burial.
Saudi Arabia's strict version of Islam known as Wahhabism stresses the equality of all people in death, frowns on weeping and other public displays of grief and discourages the visiting of graves, as is common in other Muslim cultures.
Earlier, the heads of state and dignitaries crowded the Imam Turki mosque for the prayer for the dead, along with thousands of Saudi princes in red headdresses, white robes and their best brown and black cloaks, embroidered with gold and doused with perfumes.
Fahd's body was brought in on a wooden plank carried by his sons, and placed in the middle of the mosque among the crowd. The mourners, including the new Saudi king, stood for a special prayer for the dead, some with tears in their eyes.
The crowd raised their arms and chanted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" during the two-minute prayer. Afterward, Fahd's body was carried back out to an ambulance for a procession of cars to the cemetery.
Abdullah sat in a chair in the mosque, greeted by Saudis and heads of state -- including Iraq's Kurdish president and the country's Shiite Muslim prime minister. Some kissed Abdullah's right shoulder in a traditional sign of respect, others kissed his cheeks or shook his hand.
Among them was Saad Hariri, the son of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in February. "This year has been bad. With the death of His Majesty King Fahd, I've lost two fathers," Hariri said, tears in his eyes.
Women were not allowed at the funeral or burial.
Fahd's female relatives held a "majlis" or "council" to receive condolences from women, in accordance with Wahhabism's strict segregation of the sexes. Fahd had at least three wives and five daughters in addition to seven sons.
Saudis flocked to honor Abdullah, lining up at the royal court after the burial. Saudi and pan-Arab newspapers were packed with poems and tributes to Fahd and vows of loyalty to Abdullah.
"Saudi Arabia bids farewell to King Fahd on his way to paradise," proclaimed a front-page headline on one Saudi daily.
Businessmen, government agencies and private individuals took out full-page condolence advertisements with large photos of the late monarch. Satellite TV stations seen across the Arab world, many of them Saudi-owned, had wall-to-wall tributes to Fahd.
Wednesday's "bayah" ceremony is crucial, a traditional Islamic ritual by which the people personally give their consent to the new absolute ruler. With it, Abdullah -- who has been limited by his unofficial status as leader -- gains the legitimacy of a full king.
In theory, the ceremony is open to all Saudi citizens to express their fealty. But like Tuesday's events, it will probably be limited to the most powerful figures -- tribal chiefs, the Islamic clerical hierarchy, government officials, princes and businessmen -- for security reasons. Saudi Arabia's third king, Faisal, was assassinated by a nephew during a public audience in 1975.
When Fahd's death was announced and Abdullah was named king, Fahd's brother Prince Sultan was made the new crown prince -- next in line for succession.
The transition smooths over a potential long-term rivalry between Abdullah and the circle of Fahd's full brothers known as the Sudairi Seven, after their mother. All are sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, who had numerous wives.
The Sudairi Seven dominate the government's most powerful posts. While they will stay in their positions, Abdul-Aziz's grandsons are looking for position, with an eye on succession in the years ahead when Abdullah and Sultan's aging generation moves aside.
Since Fahd's death, Saudi officials have underlined that oil policy -- overseen by Abdullah the past decade -- would remain the same and stressed that production has continued as normal.
But despite the easy transfer of power to Abdullah, the potential for infighting after Fahd's death led benchmark crude oil futures to remain near record closing levels Tuesday, lingering around $61.57 a barrel as traders worried about future oil production from the kingdom.
With oil consumption rising around the world and only a limited amount of excess production capacity available, energy traders are easily put on edge by any geopolitical change, perceived uncertainty or weather patterns in producing regions.
Associated Press writer Adnan Malik in Riyadh contributed to this report.