Saudi allies praise crown prince after death

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Saudi Arabia's allies praised Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Saturday following his death at the age of 80, with the United States saying he would be missed.

The crown prince, aged 80 according to government records, served as the oil kingpin's defence minister for nearly five decades but had been in the United States since mid-June for medical treatment.

A Western diplomat, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Prince Sultan had been hooked up to life support systems at New York Presbyterian hospital and was declared "clinically dead" more than a month ago.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a trip to the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, said the prince would be "missed," stressing Washington's enduring ties with the oil-rich Gulf state.

"I offer my deepest condolences for this loss to King Abdullah and the Saudi people," she said. "He will be missed."

In Jordan, King Abdullah II opened a World Economic Forum in the country's Dead Sea resort town with a minute of silence in the late prince's honour, hailing him as a "champion of the Arab and Muslim cause."

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "saddened" to hear of Sultan's death.

"He had many friends in this country, and we have all benefited from his wisdom and expertise in international affairs over his long years of service," the prime minister said.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, wrote to King Abdullah, his Clarence House office said.

"The Prince of Wales sent a personal letter of condolence to the king of Saudi Arabia expressing his deep sadness at the news," a spokesman said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement she had learned of the prince's death "with great sadness" and offered her "sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to the Kingdom and its people for the great loss."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "He served the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years with great dignity and dedication. His contribution to the prosperity and development of the kingdom will long be remembered.

Crown Prince Sultan's long tenure as defence and aviation minister included the massive Al-Yamamah arms deal, a rolling programme of shipments of high-tech military hardware which represents Britain's biggest ever export contract. Heavy graft rumours have long swirled around the agreement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite strains in ties with Riyadh over his security forces' deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests, also sent condolences to the king.

© 2011 AFP

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