Saudi king names new governor for restive oil region

Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:39am EST
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed a former diplomat to run its most sensitive region on Monday, naming Prince Saud bin Nayef as governor of oil-producing Eastern Province, scene of protests by the kingdom's Shi'ite Muslim minority.

The appointment gives Prince Saud, who was born in 1956, a senior government job at a moment when the ruling al-Saud family is making a transition towards a younger generation of leaders.

The Eastern Province has seen repeated anti-government demonstrations over the past two years by Shi'ite Muslim protesters calling for more political rights and the release of jailed relatives.

"Prince Mohamad bin Fahad bin Abdulaziz is relieved of his duties as the governor of the Eastern Province, upon his request, and Prince Saud bin Nayef bin appointed governor of the Eastern province," said a Royal Court decree carried by state news agency SPA.

Prince Saud is a son of the late veteran interior minister Crown Prince Nayef, who died in June 2012. He previously served as ambassador to Spain, where he organized a high-profile interfaith dialogue conference pushed by King Abdullah.

Activists in the Eastern Province said it was not clear yet if the change in leadership would have an impact on policy in the region, where much of the country's oil industry is based.

Prince Saud briefly served as deputy governor of the Eastern Province in the 1980s. On his mother's side he is also related to the bin Jiluwi branch of the ruling family which is based in the region.

"It is a significant change. But to my knowledge in the upper echelons of the state, the view of Qatif is very much influenced by security issues," said Tawfiq al-Seif, a leader of the Shi'ite community in Saudi Arabia, referring to the town where most of the protests have taken place.

"We have to wait and see if that will now happen," he said.   Continued...

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah meets visitors in Riyadh November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout