Saudi Arabia releases images of King Salman after purge of royals

Saudi Arabia releases images of King Salman after purge of royals
The stunning purge by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman raised speculation about the health of the 84-year-old king.
3 min read
08 March, 2020
King Salman was photographed carrying out duties amid speculation over MbS's succession [Getty]

Saudi Arabia released images of King Salman carrying out his royal duties on Sunday, after a stunning purge of at least three princes including his brother and nephew for allegedly plotting a coup.

Saudi royal guards on Friday detained the trio, multiple sources told AFP, in a move that signals Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's (MbS) tightening grip on power.

The detentions also raised speculation about the health of the 84-year-old king and whether Prince Mohammed's succession to the Arab world's most powerful throne was imminent.

But the official Saudi Press Agency posted photos of the king presiding over the swearing-in ceremony of newly appointed Saudi ambassadors to Ukraine and Uruguay.

A source close to the Saudi leadership told AFP on Saturday the "king is healthy and fine" and the detentions were meant to enforce "discipline" within the royal family.

The crown prince is "in control" and the purge was carried out "after an accumulation of negative behaviour by the two princes", this source added without elaborating.

Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a brother of King Salman, and the monarch's nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef were detained after they were accused of plotting a palace coup aimed at unseating the crown prince, heir to the Saudi throne, sources said.

Prince Nayef's younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, was also detained, they added.

The detentions mark the latest crackdown by Prince Mohammed, the king's son who has consolidated his grip on power with the imprisonment of prominent clerics and activists as well as princes and businessmen.

MbS has also faced a torrent of international condemnation over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018.

Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levels of government, from defence to the economy, the prince is widely seen to be stamping out traces of internal dissent before a formal transfer of power from his 84-year-old father King Salman.

"Prince Mohammed is emboldened - he has already ousted any threats to his rise and jailed or murdered critics of his regime without any repercussion," Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation, said of the latest crackdown.

"This is a further step to shore up his power and a message to anyone - including royals - not to cross him."

The detentions come at a sensitive time as Saudi Arabia bars Muslim pilgrims from Islam's holiest sites to contain the novel coronavirus.

The kingdom has suspended the "umrah" year-round pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading to Mecca and Medina, raising uncertainty over the upcoming hajj - a key pillar of Islam.

The oil-rich kingdom is also grappling with the plunging price of crude, its major source of revenue.

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