King Abdullah back Wednesday: source near Saudi king

AFP , Sunday 20 Feb 2011

Saudi king Abdullah is reportedly returning from operations in New York Wednesday

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is to return home this week after convalescing in Morocco from operations in New York, a source close to the oil-rich Gulf monarchy said on Sunday.

"The king is expected to return Wednesday and preparations are underway" to greet Abdullah, the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Another source said the heads of Saudi state media, especially television channels, have been instructed to begin from Tuesday to broadcast special programmes on the king's return.

The streets of Riyadh have already been decorated with national flags for the monarch's return.

Riyadh's ambassador to Rabat told AFP on Friday the king would soon return to his country. "I was talking to him 15 minutes ago and I can assure you he is very well," Mohammed ibn Abderrahman Al-Bishr said.

King Abdullah, 86, arrived in Morocco on January 22 after surgery on his back in the United States 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 ouster 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 ouster on February 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.

Tension has also reached the conservative Gulf monarchy's neighbour Bahrain, where Shiite protesters have taken to the streets to push for reform in the Sunni-ruled state.

King 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.

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