Saudi King rushes home; announces $10.7b new benefits

February 24, 2011

RIYADH -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Wednesday announced a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $10.7 billion, as he returned to the country after he spent three months abroad for health treatment, state television reported.

The steps include funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well the writing off some loans, media reports said.
The move comes as governments in the region scramble to deal with pro-democracy uprisings sparked by youth unemployment and political repression.
As part of the Saudi scheme, state employees will see their incomes increase by 15 percent, and additional cash has also been made available for housing loans.
No political reforms were announced as part of the package, though the 86-year-old monarch did pardon some prisoners indicted in financial crimes.
Abdullah was recovering in Morocco for four weeks, after undergoing surgery in the United States for a herniated disk which had caused blood accumulation around his spine.
During the king's absence, his brother, Crown Prince Sultan, was in charge of the Kingdom. Sultan himself has also suffered from illness intermittently over the last two years, and has spent long time abroad.
As the king's plane touched down at King Khaled bin Abdul Aziz Airport, men in white garb performed a traditional Ardha dance while well-wishers including women, most in black niqabs, waited to see their ruler, AFP reported.
Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz and Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa were among a string of officials and royals who turned out to greet the monarch, who was seated in a black chair set up just outside the plane's door.
Saudi Arabia has declared Saturday a public holiday to mark King Abdullah's safe return home, following back surgery in New York and a recuperation period in Morocco.
The front pages of all Saudi newspapers on Wednesday were dedicated to news of the king's return, as editorials linked its timing to the ""unrest"" sweeping the Arab world.
""The king is the only pillar of stability in the region now,"" said the English-language daily Arab News.
""The king returns today at a time when the Arab world is experiencing frightening developments to what he had left not only stable... but an oasis of peace and security full of love and loyalty,"" said the Arabic-language daily Okaz.
Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak -- a close ally of King Abdullah -- was forced out of power under massive popular pressure on February 11.
Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah in mid-January after protests toppled his regime.
Tunisian authorities have formally asked Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi.
Tension is also gripping Yemen as well as Libya and Bahrain, home to a large Shia community which is demanding reform in the Sunni-ruled country.
The Saudi's oil-rich Eastern Province, which abuts Bahrain, is home to most of the estimated two million Saudi Shiites.
The unrest in the Arab world has pushed oil prices higher on fear of disruption in supplies, but Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, has said it has the capacity to meet any shortage.
King Abdullah flew to New York on November 22 and underwent surgery two days later for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a haematoma.
The monarch's advanced age combined with health problems have raised concerns about the future of Saudi Arabia, which has been ruled by the Al-Saud family since 1932.
Photo: Saudi citizens celebrate as they greet the convoy transporting King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (pictures) upon his arrival in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 23, 2011. (Getty Images)