Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan was laid to rest amid an outpouring of grief and the praise world leaders.
“The Supreme Federal Council today unanimously elected His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, governor of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, as president of the United Arab Emirates,” the official WAM news agency said.
Sheikh Khalifa is the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, who was founding father and head of state of the seven-member UAE federation since its formation in 1971.
He became emir of Abu Dhabi following his father’s death, and it had been expected that he would be elected to succeed him as president of the UAE.
Arab and Muslim leaders joined thousands of grieving Emiratis to pay their last respects to Sheikh Zayed.
A dozen heads of state took part alongside the ruling families of Abu Dhabi and other members of the seven-strong Gulf federation in the “prayer of the dead” ritual, as thousands of Emiratis crashed through barriers put up by police to enter the mosque courtyard in a ceremony broadcast live on television.
Crowds ran behind the convoy which later carried the body of Sheikh Zayed, who died after 33 years at the helm of the federation, to a mosque bearing his name at the entrance of the UAE capital. He was buried there.
Sheikh Zayed was in his late eighties.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai were among Muslim leaders on hand at the funeral.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Bahrain’s King Hamad and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos were also present.
Indian President Abdul Kalam and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, also offered their condolences, while Britain’s Prince Charles landed at Abu Dhabi airport in the evening.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that he would arrive in the emirate to express his condolences tomorrow.
Saudi Arabia was represented by its crown prince and de facto ruler, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Both Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also came.
The dignitaries, including Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, were to offer condolences to Sheikh Khalifa starting this evening.
A number of envoys were expected to arrive later in the day, including German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Iran, which has a territorial dispute with the UAE, sent First Vice President Mohammad Reza Arif.
Deputy President Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashed al-Maktoum, who is also ruler of Dubai, had briefly taken the reins for the transition.
The Supreme Federal Council, grouping the rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah and Um al-Qaiwain, had a month to elect a successor for a five-year mandate.
As ruler of the UAE’s largest and wealthiest member, Sheikh Khalifa had been expected to get the top post.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sheikh Zayed “stood both at home and abroad as a symbol of benevolent and wise leadership characterised by generosity, tolerance and avid pursuit of development and modernisation.”
French President Jacques Chirac paid homage to “a man of peace and vision” who promoted “the virtues of compromise, reason and dialogue in a region stirred by crises and conflicts.”
Unlike many Arab rulers, Sheikh Zayed was genuinely loved by his people for using oil money to turn the desert federation green after playing a key part in its creation on December 2, 1971 following Britain’s pullout from the Gulf.
That was five years after he had been proclaimed ruler of Abu Dhabi, which became the wealthiest emirate of the federation and accounts for some 90 per cent of the UAE’s oil production, currently about 2.5 million barrels a day.