Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Body of Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz arrives in Riyadh

The body of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the heir to the Saudi throne who died in New York on Saturday, arrived Monday in the Saudi capital, greeted by crowds of people, authorities and troops.

The body was flown into Riyadh Air Base, according to two Saudi government officials.

The death of Sultan, the half-brother of King Abdullah, raises succession questions in the key oil-producing country at a time of turmoil in the Arab world.

Sultan was thought to be in his 80s. He had been ill for some time -- various reports indicated he was battling cancer -- and was receiving treatment in a New York hospital at the time of his death.

His burial is scheduled for Tuesday, officials have said.

Sultan had served for decades as the Saudi defense minister. President Barack Obama called him a "valued friend" of the United States.

Ascension to the Saudi throne does not pass from father to son. Instead, it's a complex process, and decisions in the conservative kingdom are often cloaked in secrecy.

King Abdullah set up the Allegiance Council in 2006 to allow for more transparency in the succession. It was unclear when the group, made up of members of the royal family, will be employed to make a decision on the next crown prince.

Sultan's death leaves his brother Nayef, a reputed conservative, as the likely successor. Nayef has served as the Saudi interior minister since 1975 and oversaw the kingdom's counterterrorism efforts.

Sultan took a leading role in Saudi Arabia's involvement in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, heading a coalition of about half a million troops from more than 30 countries.

Abdullah left a hospital in Riyadh on Saturday following successful back surgery, the Saudi Press Agency reported. It was the third back surgery in the past year for the 87-year-old king.

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