Crown prince in charge as Saudi king leaves on holiday

RIYADH Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:52am EDT

Saudi Prince Salman, brother of Saudi King Abdullah, reacts upon the arrival of the coffin of Crown Prince Nayef at Jeddah airport June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout

Saudi Prince Salman, brother of Saudi King Abdullah, reacts upon the arrival of the coffin of Crown Prince Nayef at Jeddah airport June 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Saudi Press Agency/Handout

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman has temporarily taken charge of running the world's top oil exporter for the first time, after the royal court said on Monday King Abdullah had gone abroad for a holiday.

"We deputize, according to our order, Crown Prince Salman to manage state affairs and oversee the interests of the people during our absence from the kingdom," said a royal court statement carried by Saudi Press Agency.

The brief statement did not say where King Abdullah, who is 89, had gone, or how long he was expected to be abroad in a country where the health of senior royals is keenly watched.

Salman was appointed Abdullah's heir in June after the deaths of two crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, in eight months.

The role of crown prince does not just mean Salman would inherit power after Abdullah's death, but makes him the king's deputy in wielding executive power.

Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister, served as governor of Riyadh province for about five decades. Diplomats say he will likely continue Abdullah's cautious economic and social reforms when he becomes king.

Two weeks ago, King Abdullah appeared in good health hosting a summit conference for Muslim countries in Mecca, where he briefly stood to welcome each arriving leader and chatted between greetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Senior Saudi royals often holiday outside the kingdom during its sweltering summer months, but Abdullah has in the past also sometimes chosen to stay at his desert farm inside the country.

Saudi Arabia's political system concentrates decision-making in the hands of a few top members of the royal family, meaning the health and movements of the king, crown prince and other senior people are closely watched.

Abdullah had operations for a back complaint in 2010 and 2011.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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