Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saudi king back home, orders $37 billion in handouts

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi King Abdullah returned home on Wednesday after a three-month medical absence and unveiled benefits for Saudis worth some $37 billion in an apparent bid to insulate the world's top oil exporter from an Arab protest wave.

The king, who had been convalescing in Morocco after back surgery in New York in November, stood as he descended from the plane in a special lift. He then took to a wheelchair.

Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional Bedouin sword dance on carpets laid out at Riyadh airport for the return of the monarch, thought to be 87.

Abdullah left his ailing octogenarian half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan, in charge during his absence.

Before Abdullah arrived, state media announced an action plan to help lower- and middle-income people among the 18 million Saudi nationals. It includes pay rises to offset inflation, unemployment benefits and affordable family housing.


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