THE Queen said King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia “will be long remembered by all who work for peace and understanding” as world leaders yesterday marked his death amid renewed protests about the human rights record of his regime.
Prime Minister David Cameron and the Prince of Wales are to fly to Saudi Arabia today to join international figures paying respect in person to the royal family and flags have been lowered on key public buildings in London.
But the decision to fly them at half mast has drawn sharp criticism from some prominent politicians over abuses of free speech, women’s rights and the country’s role as cradle of Islamist extremism.
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King Abdullah, thought to be aged about 90, died on Thursday after two decades in power in the world’s biggest oil exporter. He has been succeeded by his 79-year-old half-brother, King Salman.
In a statement to King Salman, the Queen – now the world’s oldest monarch – said she was “saddened” to learn of the death.
She said: “Your distinguished brother Abdullah had devoted his life to the service of the kingdom and the service of Islam.
“He will be long remembered by all who work for peace and understanding between nations and between faiths.
“I offer Your Majesty my sincere condolences and I offer my sympathy to the Saudi people.”
Mr Cameron said that he was “deeply saddened” and that the ruler would be “remembered for his long years of service to the kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths”.
Former premier Tony Blair said he was a “stable and sound ally. . . a patient and skilful moderniser in a turbulent time in the region”.
But the lowering of the flags drew stinging criticism in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s recent public beheading of a woman and a sentence of 1,000 lashes for Raif Badawi, the creator of an online blog.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson condemned the move as “a steaming pile of nonsense”.
Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said it showed that Whitehall officials held “immoral” values far from those of the British public.
Downing Street and other Whitehall departments – with Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace – were among prominent landmarks to put Union flags at half mast after a request was sent out by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
DCMS issued a notice that “all flags be half-masted from 8am today until 8pm this evening” although it said it was for devolved governments and individual town halls to decide whether to do so.
DCMS initially suggested that the formal request for flags to be lowered to half mast came from Buckingham Palace but later clarified that it was the role of the department to issue it.
A spokeswoman said: “In line with long-standing arrangements, the Union flag is flown at half mast on government buildings following the death of a foreign monarch.”
In a split between two of Ukip’s key figures, leader Nigel Farage said it showed “respect for an ally in the war against terror”.
But Mr Carswell said officials had seriously blundered.