Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has appointed Interior Minister Prince Nayef as the new crown prince, according to a royal court statement read out on state television early Friday.
We chose His Royal Highness Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz as crown prince, said the statement, carried on the state news agency SPA.
It said Nayef had been appointed after the king notified the Allegiance Council, a family body set up in 2006 to make the process of succession in the conservative Islamic kingdom, the world's top oil exporter, smoother and more orderly.
It was the first time the council had been asked to confirm a king's choice of heir, a move that analysts had said would help to regulate an opaque system of succession.
Crown Prince Sultan died of colon cancer in New York almost a week ago. He was also the kingdom's defence and aviation minister for nearly five decades. No replacements for these positions have yet been appointed.
Prince Nayef has developed a reputation as a conservative with close ties to the Saudi religious establishment.
However, analysts and former diplomats in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, say he might show a different side to his character in his new position.
In recent years he has already run the kingdom on a day-to-day basis when King Abdullah and Prince Sultan were both absent. King Abdullah's recurrent back problem has caused him to go abroad for medical treatment.
As interior minister, Nayef led a successful effort to end a wave of al Qaeda attacks inside the kingdom from 2003.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing By Sami Aboudi and Kevin Liffey)