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Saudi Arabia to become 'softer' nation?

Saudi Arabia's energy minister has said his country is aiming to become a "softer" nation and a more tolerant place through far-reaching reforms. He said the private sector would be given a greater role in society.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia's minister of energy, industry and mineral resources, Khalid al-Falih, said his country would become a softer and more tolerant place amid efforts to reform its oil-dependent economy.

"We're going to turn Saudi Arabia into a softer place, a more pleasant place to live," the minister said, adding that the changes would come under a plan launched last year to shift the economy of the world's biggest oil exporter to one led by the private sector.

While the plan called for the development of non-oil industries, small and medium-sized enterprises and a broader investment base, it also had what Falih called "soft factors."

Focusing on tolerance

"We're going to strive to make people happy within the kingdom, and we've taken many steps to do that," the minister told a panel discussion in Davos.

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The strict Islamic kingdom currently bans alcohol, public cinemas and theaters and normally segregates men and women in public. But a new entertainment authority has already brought in some foreign shows, seen by limited audiences.

The country's Vision 2030 plan calls for more sporting and cultural activities as well as for a greater economic role for women.

"We're going to promote tolerance in our society, which exists today, but we need to make sure it's universal within Saudi Arabia," Falih said.

Addressing OPEC's recent decision to cut oil output, the minister said he would not rule out another cut to follow last December's agreement, if higher prices didn't stick.

Another option, he said, was that the recently agreed output cut could be extended further, adding, though, that oil ministers did not want to create a shortage too early.

hg/sgb (AFP, AP)

 

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