Saudi's King Abdullah back home after recovery

King Abdullah announces reforms ahead of return: report


Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz returned to the world's top oil exporter on Wednesday after spending three months abroad for medical treatment, state television said.

Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional Bedouin sword dance on special carpets laid out at Riyadh airport as they prepared to greet the monarch.

Television presenters wore special scarves in the colors of the Saudi flag in special coverage termed "the joy of a nation" to mark the king's return.

The Saudi monarch has earlier announced a series of economic reforms that included housing and other benefits for Saudis ahead of his return, the state TV said.

The economic reforms included a decision to increase social security budget by 1 billion riyals and housing fund capital by 40 billion riyals, as well as a decision to make a 15 percent cost of living allowance permanent for government employees, the state-run TV reported.

The announcements included pardoning some Saudi nationals jailed for failing to meet debt obligations and paying their debt by the government.

Under the king's measures announced on Saudi TV, the state will pay aid for unemployed young people and tuition fees to study abroad, while waiving loans.

The announcements also included funding for literary clubs, students studying abroad and social security funds.

King Abdullah travelled to the United States in November for surgery to a herniated disk which caused blood accumulation around the spine. He has been recuperating in Morocco for the past four weeks.

During the king's absence, his slightly younger half-brother Crown Prince Sultan was in charge.

King Abdullah is returning 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 stepping down of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Arabia's close ally whom the king has backed in a phone call from Morocco.

Before Mubarak's resignation on Feb. 11, Tunisia's strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah after protests toppled his regime in mid-January.

Political stability in the top OPEC producer is of global concern as Saudi Arabia controls more than a fifth of oil reserves, is a major holder of dollar assets and a vital regional U.S. ally.

Saudi Arabia, a member of the G20, outlined spending of 580 billion riyals for 2011, its third straight record budget and the king said last month expenditures are going to rise in the coming years.