The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah during the night led to an immediate power shift and may give a boost to Norway’s oil-fueled economy. Protesters, meanwhile, have demonstrated against Saudi authorities’ whippings of a Saudi blogger, and the Norwegian government lodged another protest of its own on the day before Abdullah died, calling the whippings “inhuman” punishment.
Within a few hours of reports that the ailing King Abdullah had died, the price of North Sea crude oil jumped by 2.25 percent on Asian markets that already had opened for trading. Oil prices initially remained under USD 50 but not by much, at USD 49.60 a barrel.
International news agencies reported that prices of other grades of oil jumped by more than 3 percent. The increases, which followed weeks of steep oil price declines, were tied to the immediate change of royal leadership in Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter and most powerful member of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) cartel.
Saudi Arabia’s refusal last fall to cut oil production led to the rapid dive of oil prices that has left Norway’s biggest export product trading at levels less than half of last summer and just a third of levels last year. Now, with a change at the top of the country’s power structure, traders also see potential for some changes in the supply and demand of oil, and they drove prices up.
News bureaus NTB and Reuters reported that King Abdullah was immediately succeeded by a half-brother, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, said to be diplomatic and good at easing Saudi royal family feuds. The new 79-year-old monarch also has suffered poor health in recent years and a new crown prince, Muqrin, was also named immediately.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, meanwhile, lodged another protest against the Saudi authorities’ harsh punishment of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who’s been sentenced to 1,000 lashes with a whip, 10 years in prison, a 10-year ban on travel outside the country and a large fine. Badawi, who has promoted human rights on his blog and questioned whether a local university was a den for potential terrorists, was found guilty of criticizing religious leaders and insulting Islam.
His punishment has sparked outrage around the world, and Brende took up the issue once again when he met Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London on Thursday. Brende said he told the ambassador that Norway urged a halt to the public whippings, and hoped to see Badawi released from custody.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and the sentence against Badawi defies internationally recognized norms,” Brende said. “I urged a lasting halt to whipping and other inhuman methods of punishment.”
Badawi endured his first 50 lashes on January 9 and was due to receive 50 more lashes every Friday until all 1,000 were carried out. Last week’s whipping, however, was postponed because the sores from the first whipping hadn’t healed. A committee of doctors also recommended another postponement of this week’s scheduled lashings.