Prince Charles and PM travel to Saudi Arabia

PRINCE Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron have flown to Saudi Arabia to join international figures paying respects after the death of King Abdullah amid a row about the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.

The Prince of Wales receiving King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at Clarence House, London. Picture: PA
The Prince of Wales receiving King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at Clarence House, London. Picture: PA

Heads of state and royals from around the world are visiting Saudi Arabia to meet members of the royal family and the new monarch, King Salman, in the king’s dewaniya in Riyadh, a traditional Arab reception area.

In the UK, however, the government’s decision to fly flags at half mast at public buildings – including 10 Downing Street, Westminster and Buckingham Palace – has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum over Saudi Arabia’s abuses of free speech, women’s rights and its role as a cradle of Islamist extremism – not least the militant al-Qaeda group.

It also comes at a time when the sentencing of Liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam has thrust the country’s dismal human rights record into the international spotlight.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson took to Twitter to voice her condemnation of the move to fly flags at half-mast as “a steaming pile of nonsense”.

The Ukip MP Douglas Carswell – himself a former Conservative member of parliament – said it showed Whitehall officials held immoral values far from those of the British public.

In his message of condolence, however, Cameron said Abdullah would be remembered for his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths”

Abdullah died on Thursday at the age of 90. He had been in power for more than two decades, taking over after the death of King Fahd in 2005, but having been de facto ruler after the king suffered a stroke a decade before.

Amnesty International’s Neil Durkin said Abdullah’s human rights legacy was “disastrous”, featuring “endemic torture in police cells and in prisons”.

Within hours of acceding to the throne, King Salman – the late monarch’s 79-year-old brother – vowed to maintain the same policies as his predecessors in line with Salafi Muslim orthodoxy. Like his late brother, Salman is a staunch conservative. “We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” he said. Abdullah was buried in a beige cloth in an unmarked grave in Riyadh after Friday prayers, in line with Salafi beliefs.