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President Shaikh Khalifa: A modernising ruler

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United Arab Emirates President Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, who died on Friday at the age of 73 after ruling the Gulf country for more than 17 years, was a reserved figure who saw the United Arab Emirates skyrocket on the global scene -- but rarely appeared in public himself.

Shaikh Khalifa succeeded his father, the late UAE founding president Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, as ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Shaikh Khalifa was born in 1948 in Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest of the seven emirates that united to form the UAE. He was the eldest son of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, who founded and ruled the UAE after independence from Britain in 1971.

Shaikh Khalifa studied at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in London and became crown prince of Abu Dhabi in 1969.

As crown prince, Shaikh Khalifa spent many years acting as president after his father fell sick in the late 1990s.

In 2004, his father died and Shaikh Khalifa took power after he was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the highest constitutional authority in the UAE. It is made up of the rulers of the seven emirates, who last re-elected Shaikh Khalifa as president in 2019, for his fourth five-year term.

Shortly after taking power, Shaikh Khalifa introduced elections for the first time in the country, by ordering that half of the 40-member Federal National Council, an advisory body, be directly elected.

Under his rule, the country tried to promote itself as a model of tolerance and coexistence, which culminated with a visit by Pope Francis in 2019.

While president, he was also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and the chairman of the Supreme Petroleum Council and the emirate's sovereign wealth fund, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Forbes estimated his net wealth in 2010 at $15 billion.

Shaikh Khalifa's name will be remembered worldwide, as the world's tallest building immortalises his name. The Burj Khalifa, in the UAE's business and tourist hub Dubai, is 828 metres high.

Shaikh Khalifa was said to be fond of fishing and falconry, and had supported several environmental initiatives, including those focusing on the Houbara bustard.

He was married to Shaikha Shamsa bint Suhail al Mazrouei. The couple have eight children: two sons and six daughters. – dpa/AFP

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