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Saudi plans US$2.7b entertainment firm as Kingdom opens up

[RIYADH] Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund is setting up a company to invest in local entertainment, as the conservative kingdom tentatively opens up and pursues a long-term strategy to reduce its reliance on oil.

The company will have an initial capitalization of 10 billion riyals (S$3.58 billion) and "act as its investment arm in Saudi Arabia's growing entertainment sector," the Public Investment Fund said in a statement Wednesday. The aim is for the firm to serve more than 50 million visitors a year and create more than 22,000 local jobs by 2030, it said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made boosting entertainment options and improving quality of life in the austere Islamic kingdom a key element of his so-called Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to diversify revenue sources and reduce the economy's dependence on crude production. The government has allowed concerts and film screenings over the past couple of years, though there are still no cinemas, conservatives oppose music and religious police enforce gender segregation.

Recent controversial events included men-only concerts by local star Mohammed Abdu and a Comic Con gathering, and this month the US-based Blue Man Group performed to mixed-gender audiences in Riyadh and Jeddah.

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The new company "will expand the scope and variety of entertainment offerings according to the latest international standards," the fund said. Early plans include building an entertainment complex.

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