Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed Prince Saud bin Nayef as governor of the oil-producing Eastern Province, the Royal Court said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

"Prince Mohamad bin Fahad bin Abdulaziz is relieved of his duties as the governor of the Eastern Province, upon his request, and Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz ... is appointed governor of the Eastern province," the statement released on Monday said.

The Eastern Province is home to the country's Shia Muslim minority which has held protests over the past two years calling for more rights and the release of jailed relatives.

The newly appointed Prince Saud is Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef's older brother. After serving as ambassador to Spain, Prince Saud was recalled to Riyadh to serve at the court of his late father, Crown Prince Nayef, who was also an interior minister.

Activists in the Eastern Province said it was not clear yet if the change in leadership would have an impact on policy in the region, where much of the country's oil industry is based.

"It is a significant change. But to my knowledge in the upper echelons of the state, the view of al-Qatif is very much influenced by security issues," said Tawfiq al-Seif, a leader of the Shia community in Saudi Arabia, referring to the town where most of the Eastern Province protests have taken place.

"We have to wait and see if that will now happen," he said.

Source: Agencies