Saudi Arabia appoints new crown prince

Saudi Arabian Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a half-brother to the king, has been appointed heir to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, a statement from the royal court says.


King Abdullah’s appointment of Salman, 76, as crown prince follows the death of the previous heir apparent – Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, another half-brother – on Saturday in Geneva, where he had been undergoing medical treatment.

Saudi Arabia buried the 79-year old Nayef during a sombre ceremony in Islam’s holiest city A medical source said Nayef died of “cardiac problems” at his brother’s residence in Geneva.

The ceremony was held late Sunday afternoon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, and attended by a grieving King Abdullah, members of the royal family and a number of heads of state from Islamic countries.

Tributes for Nayef, Saudi’s long-serving interior minister, poured in from around the world.

“Crown Prince Nayef devoted his life to promoting the security of Saudi Arabia,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while US President Barack Obama praised his co-operation in the fight against terror that “saved countless American and Saudi lives”.

Salman, who retains his position as minister for defence, is one of the so-called Sudairy Seven brothers, a group of powerful princes that included both Naif and previous monarch Fahd bin Abdul Aziz.

Locals see Salman as a supporter of gradual reform in the conservative kingdom. The influential pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, in which Salman officially has a 10-per-cent stake, is thought to reflect his views.

According to a 2007 Wikileaks cable, Salman said the pace and extent of reforms depend on social and cultural factors, and that “changes have to be introduced in a sensitive and timely manner.”.

“He said that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is composed of tribes and regions and if democracy were imposed, each tribe and region would have its political party,” said the cable.

He served as the governor of the Saudi capital Riyadh from 1954 until he was named minister of defence since November 2011.

Nayef’s son, Muhammad bin Naif, is expected to be promoted in turn to deputy minister for interior. Currently assistant minister for the interior with responsibility for security, he has played akey role in Saudi Arabia’s fight against al-Qaeda and is seen as one of the members of the next generation of Saudi princes most likely to hold high positions in the future.

Nayef is the second crown prince to die in less than a year. His predecessor, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, died in October.


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