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Saudi king names new heir to throne in government shakeup

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on April 29 named his powerful interior minister as heir in a major shakeup that also saw the world’s longest-serving foreign minister replaced.

A royal decree removed Crown Prince Moqren bin Abdul Aziz bin Saud as next in line to the throne and replaced him with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who headed a crackdown on Al-Qaeda in the oil-rich kingdom a decade ago.

“We have decided to respond to his highness and what he had expressed about his desire to be relieved from the position of crown prince,” said a statement from the royal court, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

It added that Moqren, 69, was also relieved of his position as deputy prime minister in the world’s largest oil exporter, but insisted “he will always remain in high regard”.

The decree named “Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince” as well as deputy prime minister and said he will continue in his position of interior minister and head of the political and security council, a coordinating body.

A separate decree April 29 said King Salman’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is in his early 30s, will be deputy crown prince.

He retains his position of defence minister, in which he has recently played a key role in a Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes on Yemeni rebels.

The dismissal of Moqren removes one of the few remaining high-level officials from the era of King Abdullah, who died on January 23 and was replaced by Salman, 79.

Moqren would have been the last son of the kingdom’s founder, Abdul Aziz bin Saud, to rule.

He was a confidant of the late Abdullah, who appointed him deputy crown prince behind then-crown prince Salman in March 2014, an unprecedented move.

Moqren’s removal leaves bin Nayef as the first of the second generation, or grandsons of Abdul Aziz, in line to lead the conservative Islamic kingdom.

The appointment of bin Nayef, 55, further solidifies control of Salman’s Sudayri branch of the royal family. Their influence had waned under Abdullah.

A Western diplomat said Moqren had really only a “protocol” position under King Salman, describing bin Salman as “the strong man in Saudi Arabia”.

Under Salman, Saudi Arabia has adopted a more assertive foreign policy, leading the Arab-dominated coalition targeting Iran-backed rebels in neighbouring Yemen since late March.

In another major change, Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, was appointed foreign minister, a royal decree said.

He replaces Prince Saud al-Faisal who “asked to be relieved from his duties due to his health condition,” said the decree carried by the SPA.

Prince Saud had held the post since 1975, making him the world’s longest-serving foreign minister.

Born in 1940, he was in the United States for back surgery when Salman acceded to the throne.

The decree said Prince Saud has been appointed as an adviser and a special envoy of the king, as well as a supervisor on foreign affairs.

Jubeir came to attention answering reporters’ questions in the United States in defence of his country’s decision to participate in an aerial campaign in Yemen.

His appointment is a rarity as the position of foreign minister is usually held by a member of the ruling family.

Salman also named a new health minister in Wednesday’s reshuffle, the second major government shakeup since he took office.