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Saudi Arabia sacks top military chief and several senior officials in shake-up

Among Saudi's new appointments is a female deputy labour minister
Saudi Arabia has seen major changes under 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AFP)

Saudi Arabia reshuffled some of its top military officers and several deputy ministers on Monday in a broad shake-up seen as elevating younger officials in key economic and security ministries.

The military chief of staff was retired and replaced by First Lieutenant General Fayyad bin Hamed al-Ruwayli while new chiefs were appointed to the country's air defence and land forces, according to royal decrees published by state media.

"Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, chief of staff," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Several new deputies in economic and security-related ministries as well as a handful of new city mayors were appointed, including Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah as deputy labour minister, a rare senior post for a woman in the deeply conservative kingdom.

The decrees also included the appointment of three deputy governors from among the descendants of Princes Ahmed, Talal and Muqrin - brothers of King Salman, some of whom may have felt sidelined by recent changes since his accession to the throne in 2015.

One of them, new deputy governor of Asir province, Prince Turki bin Talal, is the brother of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was detained in the government's anti-corruption campaign and only released last month.

The way Saudi Arabia is run has seen major changes under 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who rocketed to the heights of power from near obscurity after his father became king following the death of King Abdullah in 2015. The crown prince is pushing big economic and social shifts.

He has irked some with his unconventional approach, including a palace coup last summer in which he pushed out his cousin to become heir to the throne. 

A supposed anti-corruption sweep that led to the detention of dozens of royal family members, officials and wealthy businessmen last year is seen as a power grab by bin Salman to subdue potential rivals.

Saudi analyst Ahmed al-Towayan, speaking on Saudi state television, said the new appointments were "pumping young blood" into local government while elevating young commanders into top military posts.

The conservative kingdom has also started accepting applications for women to join the military for the first time in the rank of a soldier.

Applicants have to be born and raised in Saudi Arabia, between the age of 25 and 35 and at least 155cm tall. They can’t be married to a citizen of a foreign country, and their weight and height have to be “proportional,” according to an application posted on the Interior Ministry’s website.

Allowing women in the military follows royal decrees that permitted women to drive and attend football games at stadiums. Earlier this year, the kingdom lifted a ban on cinemas.

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