Saudi king unveils $35 bln aid for citizens

The announcements come as many countries in the region are hit by popular protests over poverty, corruption and political repression.

Saudi king unveils $35 bln aid for citizens

 

Saudi King Abdullah unveiled a series of benefits for Saudis estimated to be worth $35 billion on his return home on Wednesday from three months abroad for medical treatment.

The action plan, which includes funding to offset high inflation, to help young unemployed people and support families to get affordable housing, was made as popular protests over poverty, corruption and repression hit many Arab countries.

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, thought to be 87.

State television presenters wore scarves in the colours of the Saudi flag in coverage termed "the joy of a nation" to mark the king's return.

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.

The measures did not include political reforms in the absolute monarchy such as municipal elections, as demanded by opposition groups. The Gulf Arab state has no elected parliament or political parties and does not tolerate public dissent.

"I think it's good but we need to see more reforms such as municipal elections and better regulation. Financial benefits work only if officials can be held responsible," said a Saudi political analyst, who declined to be identified.

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. However, doubts remain over his health as he was abroad for much of the past two years for illness.

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.

Like other Arabs, Saudis watching the fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Ben Ali Zine al-Abidine have started calling on social media for reforms in the kingdom.

Hundreds of people backed a Facebook campaign calling for a "day of rage" on March 11 to demand an elected ruler and release of political prisoners.

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.

A state programme to help Saudis to get affordable housing will be supported alone with 40 billion riyals but the unnamed Saudi analyst said the plan did not fix the problems that much of land is owned by royals.

Agencies

Last Mod: 24 Şubat 2011, 12:57
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