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Sunday, June 19, 2011     GET REAL

Saudi vacuum of power: Crown prince, king ill; Interior minister in charge

ABU DHABI — Saudi Arabia's elderly heir has again left the country amid reports of ill health.


Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz has left for what was described as a "private visit" to the United States. Sultan, also the kingdom's defense minister, left Riyad on June 18 for medical treatment in an unidentified American hospital, Middle East Newsline reported.

The king has also been limited since his return from the United States in early 2011, where he had undergone two spinal operations. The diplomats said most decisions were being made by Deputy Prime Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, also the kingdom's interior minister.

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"Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, deputy premier and defense and aviation minister and inspector-general left Riyad on June 18 on a private visit after he undergoes medical check-ups in the United States of America," the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The agency, quoting a palace statement, did not say when Sultan, who turns 88 in August, would return. This marked the crown prince's first visit to the United States in several years.

Over the last year, Sultan increased his profile amid a power struggle to replace the ailing King Abdullah. In highly-staged appearances, the defense minister was seen in newspapers and television meeting delegations and foreign visitors.

Western diplomats said Sultan was no longer regarded as heir to the throne. They said the crown prince was suffering from dementia as well as stomach cancer that made him mentally and physically unable to make decisions on Saudi defense or domestic policy.

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