New UAE president meets Macron as world leaders pay respects
ABU DHABI, May 15: The UAE's new president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, held talks Sunday with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron as world leaders streamed in to the oil-rich Gulf state to pay tribute to his late predecessor.
Macron, on his first foreign trip since his second term started last week, expressed his condolences to the leader dubbed "MBZ" following the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa on Friday after a long illness.
Macron, the first Western leader to pay his respects, will be followed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel's president and the king of Spain, among a long list of dignitaries.
The United Arab Emirates has begun wielding increased influence in the Middle East and further afield due to its wealth, oil resources and strategic location. MBZ has been quietly running the country since 2014 when Sheikh Khalifa, his 73-year-old half-brother, was sidelined by a stroke. The cause of his death was not announced.
Presidents and monarchs from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Tunisia and Sudan's de facto ruler were among the leaders to offer their condolences on Saturday.
On Sunday, Qatar's emir, Bahrain's king and the Palestinian, German and Indonesian presidents were among more than 20 senior officials expected.
Macron, in his talks with Sheikh Mohamed, 61, expressed his "sincere condolences to his family and the people" over Sheikh Khalifa's death, according to the French presidential office.
"The United Arab Emirates are a strategic partner for France, a fact that is borne out by the degree of our cooperation in areas as varied as defence, culture and education," it added.
Flags are at half-mast around the country, which is observing 40 days of mourning for Sheikh Khalifa who took over after the death of his father, founding president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, in 2004.
Sheikh Mohamed was chosen to head the government of the desert state in a unanimous vote Saturday by leaders of the country's seven emirates, as had been widely expected. -AFP