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Saudi oil minister sacked in government bustle

RIYADH: Saudi King Salman replaced his long-serving oil minister on Saturday as part of a major government overhaul which comes as the kingdom grapples with a slump in energy revenues.

The revamp follows last month’s announcement of an ambitious plan to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy to reduce its dependence on oil.

Ali al-Naimi, who held the post of oil minister for more than two decades, was one of the most powerful figures within the OPEC oil cartel.

But recently his influence appeared to have been curbed by the growing power of Salman’s son Prince Mohammed who has taken charge of economic policy.

Naimi has been replaced by Khaled al-Falih, previously health minister, who takes the enlarged portfolio of energy, industry and mineral resources, according to a royal decree announced Saturday by state media.

Among other changes, a new central bank governor was announced and the ministry of electricity and water was scrapped.

Naimi, described by Forbes magazine in 2014 as “the world’s most powerful oilman”, oversaw a major change in policy towards the end of his tenure as OPEC refused to cut production despite a price plunge.

Instead the kingdom focused on protecting its market share and driving out less-competitive players, including US shale producers.

Major oil producers failed in Doha to reach an agreement on freezing output last month as Saudi Arabia insisted any deal must include all OPEC members, including rival Iran, which boycotted the talks.

Naimi was born in 1935, two years before the first commercial quantities of oil were discovered in the kingdom’s east. -AFP