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Salman, Saudi Arabia's new crown prince

Saudi defence minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who was named heir to the throne on Monday, has a reputation for probity and is a respected arbiter among the ruling family.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2012 22:39 IST

Saudi defence minister Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who was named heir to the throne on Monday, has a reputation for probity and is a respected arbiter among the ruling family.

King Abdullah also appointed Salman as deputy prime minister while keeping him on as defence minister.

His full brother Nayef died on Saturday at the age of 79 in Switzerland, just eight months after himself becoming heir apparent after the death of his brother crown prince Sultan at the age of 86.

Salman, 76, was considered close to Sultan, whom he accompanied on his trips abroad for medical treatment.

The new crown prince became defence minister in October following Sultan's death, in what was the first ministerial post for Salman who had been the governor of Riyadh for more than 50 years.

Until last year he remained at the helm of the capital, winning credit for its development into a modern city.

Eleanor Gillespie, a contributing editor of the London-based Gulf States Newsletter, said that Salman's job as Riyadh governor has "allowed him to serve as a generally very well respected arbiter of Al-Saud family affairs, as well as overseeing the city's emergence as Saudi Arabia's capital."

"Salman has a reputation for probity and for being 'clean' when it comes to money," says Gillespie.

Jane Kinninmont, a Middle East and North Africa senior research fellow from London's Chatham House, said "the new crown prince may adopt a more reformist approach but with the constraints and red lines of the system... But don't expect change to come quickly or dramatically."

"He will have an opportunity to take a more constructive approach towards addressing the root causes of unrest in the Eastern province, which Prince Nayef always dismissed as the result of Iranian meddling rather than the symptom of local grievances," she said.

Saudi's minority Shiites took to the streets in protest in February 2011 after the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighbouring Bahrain to help crush a month-long Shiite-led uprising against the country's Sunni monarchy.

Oil-rich Eastern province is home to some two million Saudi Shiites who for decades have complained of marginalisation by the Sunni monarchy.

Nayef was known for his suspicion and mistrust of Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran, and has pushed for hardline policies towards the Shiite Islamic republic.

With the appointment of Salman, King Abdullah is following the tradition of keeping the most senior posts in the hands of the first generation of the sons of Abdul Aziz, founder of the kingdom.

Salman is one of four surviving brothers of the strong "Sudairi Seven," as the formidable bloc of sons of Abdul Aziz by a favourite wife, Princess Hassa al-Sudairi, is known.

In addition to Salman, remaining Sudairis include Prince Abdul Rahman, Prince Turki and Prince Ahmed, deputy interior minister who succeeded Nayef as the kingdom's security chief.

Married three times, Prince Salman had 10 sons, two of whom have died, and a daughter.

One of his sons, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, was appointed assistant petroleum minister in 2004 and is likely to succeed Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

But his most famous son is Prince Sultan, the first Saudi to go into space when he joined the 1985 US Discovery mission. He is currently head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

Salman "is probably Western policy-makers' favourite choice when it comes to future kings," Gillespie said.

However he suffers from degenerative disc disease in his cervical vertebrae, and had spinal surgery abroad in June 2010, she said.

King Abdullah himself underwent a back operation aimed at repairing a slackening ligament near the third vertebra last year.

In November 2010 the monarch also had surgery for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a blood clot that put pressure on his spine, and he underwent further surgery the following month.