Saudi king wields carrot and stick

AFP , Friday 18 Mar 2011

Saudi King Abdullah announces billions of dollars in handouts for his people and boosted his security apparatus

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah address the nation from his office (Reuters)

Saudi King Abdullah warned Friday that security forces will "hit" whoever "considers" undermining the kingdom's security and stability, in a speech aired on state-run Al-Ekhbareya television.

He coupled the warning with an announcement of massive social benefits including offering employees two months extra salary, higher unemployment payments, better health care and improved housing.

"You are the hitting hand against whoever considers undermining the nation's security and stability," King Abdullah said, addressing Saudi security forces.

He also announced the creation of 60,000 more military and security jobs and the establishment of an anti-corruption committee to fight graft.

According to Friday's royal decree, the OPEC kingpin, for the first time, set a minimum wage of 3,000 riyals ($800) a month for government employees.

The king also announced 500,000 new housing units to which 250 billion riyals (around $67 billion) will be allocated.

The new pledges came as a wave of protests, triggered by poverty and unemployment, swept across the Arab world including neighbouring Yemen and also Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia has sent troops to quell Shiite-led protests against the ruling Sunni dynasty.

In Saudi Arabia's oil-rich mainly Shiite Eastern Province, hundreds of Saudi Shiites rallied late on Thursday to show solidarity with Shiites in Bahrain.

Witnesses said Saudi security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in the city of Qateef where shots also rang out. Marches were also held in the cities of Tarut, Safwa and Awamiya.

Shortly before his return home last month after a three month absence for medical treatment abroad, the monarch announced a package of social benefits worth an estimated $36 billion (26 billion euros), mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed.

Youth unemployment stands at 10 percent and women are largely kept out of the workforce.

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