February 13, 2019 / 6:25 PM / 4 months ago

Saudi king launches $8 billion in development projects in capital

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz is pictured in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 14, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Salman launched projects worth 29.9 billion riyals ($7.97 billion) on Wednesday in the capital Riyadh, the latest in a series of high profile investment announcements that signal support for his son and heir.

State TV showed King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman listening to a briefing on the development projects in areas ranging from healthcare, education and housing to public transportation and state services.

In addition to the 360 new projects announced on Wednesday, the king proclaimed the opening of 921 other projects already built for another 52.3 billion riyals.

Riyadh governor Faisal bin Bandar said in a speech during the televised ceremony the development projects were part of the kingdom’s 2030 vision, referring to an economic reform program launched by the crown prince.

Crown Prince Mohammed, 33, on course to become the first Saudi king from a new generation after a line of six brothers dating back to 1953, has pledged to reform the economy and ease Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules.

His international reputation was severely hurt last year by the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Riyadh initially denied the killing but has since acknowledged that its agents carried it out, though it says the leadership was not involved.

In November, King Salman toured the kingdom with the crown prince and launched billions of dollars worth of development projects, in what was seen as a bid to shore up his heir’s status following doubts in the wake of the Khashoggi affair.

King Salman served as governor of Riyadh for five decades, during which the capital grew from a small city of clay houses to a metropolis with skyscrapers, shopping malls and modern infrastructure.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Aziz El Yakoubi; Editing by Peter Graff

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