Riyadh, King Abdullah appoints heir designate to throne
It is his half-brother Muqrin, an expert in military science, former head of intelligence. Announcement comes a few hours ahead of Obama's visit. US politicians ask their president to demand respect for human rights: religious freedom, dignity of women, cancellation of 'anti- terrorism' laws prohibiting any dissent.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies ) - 90 year-old King Abdullah has appointed his most likely successor to the Saudi throne: His half-brother Muqrin (see photo) .

According to law, Abdullah's brother, Prince Salman , 79, should succeed him but palace rumors report that he is very sick.

The Royal Decree lays down that henceforth Muqrin, who until 2012 was head of intelligence, is designated as crown prince, next in line for the throne on the death of Abdullah and Salman (who many believe will give up the throne, given his physical condition) .

The decision has sparked the jealousy of other contenders, including Abdullah's son Mitab, and Salman's son Mohammed. To curb any in-fighting, the former was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, the second Minister of Defense.

Born September 15, 1945, Muqrin graduated in aeronautical engineering at Britain's RAF and has a degree in military science.

The decree of Abdullah's decision was issued a few hours ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama 's visit to Saudi Arabia, which begins today. Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia - always a deep alliance - have cracked in recent times given the United States openings towards Iran and American indecision in supporting the fundamentalist rebels fighting against Syria.

At least 65 US lawmakers have asked Obama to make significant gestures to denounce the human rights violations of the Saudi kingdom, including the oppression of minorities, religious freedom and women's rights.

The signatories of the request demand the Saudi government "stop the use of torture and reform the new so-called 'anti-terror laws' which in practice criminalize peaceful dissent".