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Saudi crown prince dies abroad after illness

The heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz Saud, has died – opening up questions about who will replace King Abdullagh.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in Spain in 2010.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in Spain in 2010.
Image: Paul White/AP/Press Association Images

THE HEIR TO the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz Al Saud, has died after an illness, state TV announced today.

The death of the 85-year-old prince opens questions about the succession in the oil-rich US ally.

Sultan was the half-brother of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who is two years older than him and has also been ill. Last week he underwent back surgery.

The announcement did not reveal where he died but it revealed that he was not in the kingdom. It also did not elaborate on his illness.

With deep sorrow and sadness the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz mourns the death of his brother and his Crown Prince Sultan… who died at dawn this morning Saturday outside the kingdom following an illness.”

The BBC reports that he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004 and it is believed he died at a New York hospital.

It is typical of the Saudi royal family to receive medical treatment in New York.

Although a process for choosing the next king is unclear, the most likely candidate to replace Sultan as heir to the throne is Prince Nayef, Abdullah’s half brother and the powerful interior minister in charge of internal security forces. After Sultan fell ill, the king gave him an implicit nod in 2009 by naming him second deputy prime minister, traditionally the post of the second in line to the throne.

The probable successor is thought to be 77.

Sultan’s funeral will be held on Tuesday afternoon in Riyadh.

Succession

It is possible the king will for the first time put the decision of his heir to the Allegiance Council, a body Abdullah created a decade ago as one of his reforms

The council, made up of his brothers and nephews with a mandate to determine the succession, was created to modernise the process. Traditionally, the king names his successor.

Anyone who rises to the throne is likely to maintain the kingdom’s close alliance with the US. Abdullah has been seen as a reformer, making cautious changes to improve the position of women – such as granting them to right to vote in elections scheduled for 2015.

Sultan’s political life

Son of King Abdulaziz and his most influential wife Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, Sultan’s first appointment was as governor of Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital.

He became minister of defence and aviation in 1963. He was one of the driving forces behind the close ties between the kingdom and the US. He also was involved in the establishment of the national airline Saudia.

Sultan is survived by 32 children from multiple wives. They include Bandar, the former ambassador to the United States who now heads the National Security Council, and Khaled, Sultan’s assistant in the Defense Ministry.

-Additional reporting by AP

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