Saudi King Abdullah dies, aged 90

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died on Thursday aged 90, and was succeeded by his brother, Salman, who is 79. As The Atlantic reports, the King’s death comes at a tumultuous moment in the Middle East. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post of the nation’s “coming struggle.”

The New York Times calls the King a “shrewd force who reshaped” his country while the Wall Street Journal said his passing “clouds an already tense relationship with the US.”

saudi:AP  (image: AP/USAToday)

In a statement, President Obama expressed his condolences, saying:

As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.

An obituary in The Guardian said the “monarch’s reign saw the spread of division, corruption and strife, and was saved only by ‘black gold’.”  With Saudi Arabia the largest member of OPEC, oil prices jumped in early Asia trade Friday.

 Al Jazeera looks at the King’s legacy, writing:

..As Arab uprisings raged elsewhere, he [King Abdullah] spent $130 billion on housing, jobs and other social benefits in a bid to win the hearts and minds of his subjects. His calculation appears to have worked, because despite online calls for a day of rage to protest the lack of democracy, no anti-government protest movement of the type seen elsewhere ever took hold in the kingdom.

And the king remained a largely popular figure.

His critics believe he could have done more, given Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth, to help his population. But if the stability of Saudi’s monarchy is under threat, it’s not from looming poverty or a possible uprising but from old age — and a potential succession problem.

Or, as Steve LeVine writes at Quartz: “We have a new Saudi Arabian king, but the world already wants to know who will succeed him.”

* WORLD * The President of Yemen and US ally, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, resigned, along with his prime minister and cabinet, hours after apparently agreeing a deal with Houthi rebels who had captured the presidential palace amid violent clashes this week. The turmoil appears set to continue. Jamie Dettmer writes at The Daily Beast:

The stage now seems set for the outbreak of full-fledged sectarian civil war, one that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror network’s most dangerous and capable affiliate, is likely to exploit for its advantage.

The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial will be delayed because  jury selection is taking longer than expected. Tsarnaev’s lawyers, meanwhile, are making a third attempt to have the trial moved outside Massachusetts.

The mother of one of the two Japanese hostages being held by Isis issued a video appeal for his life, as the hostage-takers’ deadline approaches with Japanese authorities  reiterating they will not pay the $200m ransom.

As President Obama prepares for his visit to India at the weekend, negotiators from the two countries are in London trying to finalize a nuclear trade agreement that the leaders can announce.

In the end, it might not matter though. Apparently the world’s Doomsday Clock is ticking again.

* BUSINESS * The European Central Bank broke out the “big bazooka”, announcing a quantitative easing program that will see it buy one trillion euros worth of bonds. Paul Krugman called the move a “political triumph“. While stocks rallied, the euro sank to its lowest level against the dollar since 2003. The FT’s Ralph Atkins and Ferdinando Giugliano look at the details:

Mario Draghi wasn’t the only person giving a press conference about deflation, but more of that later.

File storage provider Box priced its IPO at $14 a share and begins trading on the NYSE on Friday under the symbol, er, BOX.

Ever wondered why CEOs sound so inane at Davos? Bloomberg’s Justin Fox explains.

* POLITICS * Republican presidential hopefuls – and potential rivals for the same sources of finance – Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush had what was called a “gentlemanly” meeting in Utah. Bush is on a cross-country fundraising blitz hoping to lock down enough big donors to scare off other candidates. Neither Bush nor Romney will be at the GOP’s “Freedom Summit” in Iowa this weekend, but plenty of other potential contenders will.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver found a high-profile defender in NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, following Silver’s arrest on corruption charges.

In the aftermath of the State of the Union, President Obama was interviewed by three “YouTube stars” and while – as you’d expect – he had his critics, the end result was refreshingly entertaining.

(YouTube/The White House)

The White House, meanwhile, said the President would not meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addresses Congress in March at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner.

* MEDIA * Supporters of journalist Barrett Brown are warning of a “dangerous precedent” after he was sentenced to 63 months in jail by a court in Dallas for charges related to  “linking to hacked material”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying the case raised “uncomfortable similarities” to that of Aaron Swartz.

Bill Gates will be The Verge’s first-ever guest editor for the month of February. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter was just published, previewing some ambitious goals for the next 15 years. Time looks at what the organization has accomplished in its first 15 years.

The Economist appointed Zanny Minton Beddoes as editor, She’s currently business affairs editor, and will be the first woman to hold the top position.

Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, a key figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, died aged 75.

* CULTURE * The Sundance Film Festival got under way Thursday night and runs for the next 10 days. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s event blog is here.

The New York Times reports that Martin Scorsese “appears to have met his match in Bill Clinton” following disagreements over a potential documentary about the former President.

So… now there’s someone who has the face of “Frostbit Boy” tattooed on his leg? Of course there is.

* SPORTS * One of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, Jeff Gordon, announced he was stepping away from full-time racing after the 2015 season. As Matt Crossman writes in Rolling Stone:

Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon has won four championships, 92 races and $146 million in prize money at NASCAR’s top level. He is not the best driver of all time, but he’s in the top five. He is inarguably the person most responsible for NASCAR’s tremendous rise in popularity from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

Finally, it’s entirely possible nothing you heard at any of Thursday’s “DeflateGate”: pressers would sound out of place here:

(YouTube/Bad Lip Reading)

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