MECCA: Saudi Arabia was preparing on Sunday to bury crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz amid worldwide condolences, as defence minister Prince Salman appeared poised to become the new heir apparent.
An aircraft bearing the body of Prince Nayef left Geneva early on Sunday for the kingdom's western city of Jeddah, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television reported.
The funeral of the Gulf nation's security czar is expected to take place later in the Muslim holy city of Mecca after sunset (at around 1600 GMT).
He will be buried in Al-Adl cemetery near the Grand Mosque, where several members of the royal family and prominent Islamic scholars are interred, the Okaz daily said.
"Crown Prince Nayef devoted his life to promoting the security of Saudi Arabia," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while US President Barack Obama praised his cooperation in the fight against terror that "saved countless American and Saudi lives."
French President Francois Hollande said his country had lost a "friend" and the president of the Swiss Confederation, where Nayef died, offered Bern's "deepest condolences."
The 79-year-old prince died of "cardiac problems" while at his brother's residence in Geneva, a medical source in the city who asked not to be identified said.
Nayef's death, just eight months after he replaced his late brother Sultan as crown prince, raises the issue of succession because of the advanced age of the first line of apparent heirs, in a time of turmoil rocking the Arab world.
King Abdullah himself is 88 and ailing, and nobody is officially in line to replace Nayef. However, his brother Prince Salman, 76, who took the defence portfolio after Sultan's death, appears to be a strong candidate.
"Prince Salman is the most likely successor," Saudi political scientist Khaled al-Dakheel said.
"All expectations point to Prince Salman to succeed Prince Nayef for his experience in administration, security and politics," agreed Anwar Eshqi, head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic Studies.