Sultan of Oman - who spent early life in Suffolk - dies aged 79
- Credit: AP
The ruler of Oman - who spent much of his youth in Suffolk - has died aged 79.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is "deeply saddened" by the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, saying he was "an exceptionally wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously".
The Middle East's longest-serving leader, Sultan Qaboos spent much of his early life in Suffolk, studying in the county as an 18-year-old before returning to Suffolk after a year serving with a British infantry battalion in Germany.
He later studied a course on local government in Suffolk before briefly holding a post at Suffolk County Council.
He became leader of Oman after seizing the throne from his father in a bloodless coup in 1970.
He died on Friday, January 10.
Mr Johnson said: "He will be remembered for his devotion to the development of Oman into a stable and prosperous nation, and as the father of the nation who sought to improve the lives of the Omani people.
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"I had the pleasure of meeting His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and was struck by his commitment to peace and understanding between nations and between faiths.
"He leaves a profound legacy, not only in Oman but across the region too.
"The UK is a proud friend and enduring partner of Oman, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Omani people."
Former prime minister Tony Blair said he heard about the death "with great sadness", saying: "He was a leader of vision and purpose who took over the leadership of his country at a difficult time and raised it to an entirely new level of development and prosperity.
"He was a man of culture, humanity and deep conviction who strove to make his nation and the world better and more peaceful.
"He was kind, thoughtful and with a big heart.
"He had great wisdom and insight from which I benefited often as did so many others.
"My deepest sympathy, prayers and condolences are with the people of Oman.
"He will be sorely missed."
Sultan Qaboos was determined to break his father's isolationist attitude and modernise the Middle Eastern country, frustrated at its lack of progress despite the wealth provided by its rich oil reserves.
One of his first steps as ruler was to abolish slavery, before setting about using Oman's oil revenues to bring the country into the 20th century.
He was an avid classical music fan who regularly took his personal 120-member orchestra with him on his travels.
The Sultan married his first cousin, Kamila, in 1976, but their marriage ended in divorce just three years later.
Members of the royal family, including the Queen and the Prince of Wales, have met the Sultan on a number of occasions.
The Queen and the sultan watched an equestrian event together in Oman in 2010, and back in 1982 were at a banquet in Claridge's Hotel held in his honour.
In 1979, the sultan was at a dinner aboard the royal yacht Britannia.
Just last month, the Duke of Cambridge had an audience with the Sultan at the Palace of Bait Al Baraka at the end of a four-day tour of Kuwait and Oman.
The Sultan was suffering from "diabetes and a history of colon cancer", according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy in December 2019.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was among others paying tribute, describing the Middle East's longest-serving leader as "widely respected" and saying he worked hard to "promote peace and stability in Oman and the wider region".