Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday said" "King Fahd is in good health. He is recovering and will be leaving hospital soon, God willing."


"I was in hospital earlier (visiting King Fahd) ... . His health has improved significantly," Prince Nayef added.


Discussing for the first time the illness of the ailing Saudi ruler, Prince Nayef, who is a brother of King Fahd, said it was an "infection", but did not give more details.


On Monday, a medical source said King Fahd was recovering from pneumonia and would remain under medical observation for another day.


Royal statement


A day earlier, Interior Minister Prince Nayef had said without giving details: "Thank God, his health is steadily improving."


Fears about the king's condition had heightened on Friday after a royal statement urged Saudis to pray for his recovery.


Prince Nayef said Fahd would
leave hospital for home soon

But Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Saturday: "His condition is stable ... . The results of medical tests make us reassured."


It was the first official reference to the outcome of the examinations conducted after Fahd was transferred to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital on Friday evening.


The state Saudi news agency SPA quoted an official on Friday night as saying: "King Fahd is well, thank God, and the medical tests he is undergoing are proceeding in a normal way."


It gave no details on the condition of Fahd, in his early 80s and incapacitated since 1995 by a stroke. There was no further update about his health on Saturday morning.


Grief and confusion


Despite palace assurances, the mood in the streets was one of grief and confusion amid conflicting reports and rumours.


Some people thought the king was in a coma while others were convinced he was critically ill.


"It's as if my own father has fallen ill"

Sultan al Droussi,
government employee

People were closely watching the news, monitoring the internet and exchanging news via mobile text messages. Many parents did not send their children to school.


"We are worried about the king. We know it's likely he will die, but we're praying that he survives," said Hajar Mohaissen.


"His illness is causing us grief. It's as if my own father has fallen ill," said Sultan al Droussi, a government employee.


Smooth succession


Should Fahd die, diplomats expect a smooth succession.


The script calls for Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's half-brother and a cautious reformist, to ascend the throne and for Defence Minister Prince Sultan to become crown prince.


Security sources in Saudi Arabia said royal princes had started arriving in the capital, Riyadh, suggesting the condition of the monarch might be serious.


An Interior Ministry official said the kingdom was on alert and cancelled leave for security forces. He said the measures were standard procedure, but Adel al-Jubeir, the crown prince's foreign policy adviser, denied there was a state of alert.


King Fahd has been in a wheelchair
since he had a stroke

The monarch has been ailing for the past decade and rumours about his condition have frequently surfaced in Saudi Arabia. But observers said this was different from previous times.


Drop in stocks


News about the king's health was blamed for a 4.69% drop in Saudi stocks on Wednesday. Oil prices jumped to $52 a barrel on Friday on expectations of high US petrol demand over the Memorial Day holiday and reports the king was ill.


Fahd has ruled Saudi Arabia since June 1982, but since his stroke, the weakened and wheelchair-bound king passed the day-to-day running of the country to Crown Prince Abdullah.


Abdullah, commander of the national guard, has overseen a crackdown on al-Qaida fighters who waged a campaign of attacks, hostage-taking and assassinations in the Gulf state.


Washington pressed Riyadh to quash fighters after mainly Saudi hijackers carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.


The Saud family maintains a tight hold on power in the conservative state, which is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam's two holiest sites.


Its strong alliance with Washington has sparked violent backlash from rebels loyal to Osama bin Laden.