ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates appointed Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as its president yesterday, hours after burying his father in a funeral that attracted thousands of mourners and nine heads of state to this desert nation on the Arabian Peninsula.
The succession was decided by the Supreme Council, which includes the leaders of the seven constituent emirates, their brothers, and their crown princes.
Sheik Khalifa is the eldest son of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the nation's founding president, who died Tuesday at age 86 after a life spent transforming seven desert emirates into a regional oil and business hub.
After prayers at Sheik Sultan bin Zayed Mosque, Sheik Zayed's body was carried out and driven slowly away as throngs of mourners rushed toward the silver van waving their late leader's photograph. A convoy of 30 vehicles went to the burial site at Zayed Grand Mosque as helicopters hovered overhead.
Thousands lined the streets ahead of the funeral prayers, some of them reading from the Koran, Islam's holy book. Many streets were closed to traffic during the prayer service, which was televised live nationally and on Arab satellite stations.
Traffic police, army, and special forces were out in force in Abu Dhabi. Businesses were shut and flags flew at half-staff at the start of the 40 days of mourning for Sheik Zayed, who was known as a generous patriarch.
"Sheik Zayed was not just the president of the UAE, he was our father, our guide, and our leader," said 46-year-old Humaid Issa al-Ali. "Thanks to him, we live the way we do today, in prosperity and peace. . . . Words cannot express my sorrow, but this is God's will."
Heads of state and other foreign dignitaries turned out for the funeral prayers. They included Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, interim President Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Bashar Assad of Syria, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
Sheik Khalifa, crown prince of Abu Dhabi since 1969, automatically became ruler of Abu Dhabi following his father's death. He is seen as a competent administrator and an expert on oil.
His father became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, four years after the emirate first began exporting the oil it had just discovered off its shores. He was credited with forging close ties with the United States and the West during his rule of the country, which dated to its 1971 founding after winning independence from Britain.
Today, the country -- with a population of around 850,000 native and 2.6 million expatriates and foreign workers -- is a leading member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the world's ninth leading producer and fifth-largest exporter. The country has also sought to diversify the economy, becoming a center for banking and finance.