RIYADH, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, who was for much of last year out of the country for medical treatment and rest, went abroad on Saturday for vacation, state news agency SPA said.
Sultan, who is also defence minister and deputy prime minister of the top oil exporter and major U.S. ally, left Saudi Arabia for a “private holiday” for an unspecified time, SPA said in a brief report, citing a royal court statement. It did not say where he was going.
Sultan’s movements are watched after he spent much of last year on recreation in Morocco following unspecified medical treatment in the United States. Diplomats have said Sultan, who is believed to be in his mid-eighties, was treated for cancer.
Saudi Arabia has said Sultan was cured and is back on normal duty, but diplomats say he has been less active in the public and has rarely travelled inside the kingdom since his return last December.
Earlier this month the royal court said Riyadh governor Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, another key player in the ruling Al Saud family, was recuperating after successful spine surgery in the United States and would return home soon.
Manoeuvres at the helm of the Gulf Arab state are closely watched. Diplomats and analysts say any top changes do not alter Saudi oil policy, its close relationship with the West, nor plans to lower economic dependence on oil as the kingdom tries to create jobs for its rapidly-rising young population.
But any changes at positions in the inner circle of the Saud family could have an impact on the pace of economic and social reforms which King Abdullah started after taking office in 2005, depending on who would get promoted, diplomats say.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no elected parliament. Al Qaeda launched a failed campaign of violence to destabilise the ruling family from 2003 to 2006.
In March 2009, King Abdullah appointed Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz as second deputy prime minister, a promotion that places him well to become king one day.
Nayef has been interior minister for more than 30 years and is one of the conservative forces in the royal family which has given the religious establishment vast influence in a country applying a strict version of Sunni Islam. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jon Hemming)