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Middle East
Saudi king to return home
Abdullah will return to a region whose political landscape has changed considerably since he left for surgery in the US.
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2011 21:11 GMT
The Saudi king went to Morocco on January 22 for recuperation after successful surgery on his back in the US [AFP]

The Saudi king will return home on Wednesday from Morocco where he has been recovering from a back operation, the royal palace has said.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud "will, God willing, arrive in Riyadh Wednesday afternoon ... following a successful treatment," the statement carried by state news agency SPA said on Tuesday.

An official said on Tuesday that "the king is expected to return on Wednesday and preparations are under way" to greet the monarch.

Another source has said that Saudi state media, especially television channels, have been instructed to begin from Tuesday to broadcast special programmes on the 86-year-old monarch. The streets of Riyadh have already been decorated with national flags ahead of his return.

Riyadh's ambassador to Rabat told AFP news agency on Friday Abdullah would soon return to his country. "I was talking to him... and I can assure you he is very well," Mohammed ibn Abderrahman al-Bishr said.

Abdullah arrived in Morocco on January 22 after surgery on his back in the US and will return home to a Middle East rocked by anti-regime uprisings, although his own country has been spared.

In his absence, mass street protests led to the overthrow of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Arabia's close ally whom the king backed in a telephone call from Morocco.

Before Mubarak's downfall on February 11, Tunisia's leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah after protests toppled his government in mid-January.

Tension has also reached the Saudi Arabia's neighbour Bahrain, where Shia Muslim protesters have taken to the streets to push for reform in the Sunni-ruled state.

Abdullah flew to New York on November 22 and was operated on two days later for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a haematoma that put pressure on his spine. That surgery was declared a success, as was a second operation to repair several vertebrae.

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.

Abdullah's half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who has held the post of defence minister ever since 1962, is 83 and has been slowed by what is believed to be cancer.

Little seen at home for the previous two years, Sultan himself flew back from Morocco on November 21 to take over the running of the government in Abdullah's absence.

Prince Nayef, 77, third in line to the Saudi throne, was appointed second deputy prime minister in March 2009.

Source:
Agencies
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