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Saudi Arabia tries to reassure over rulers’ health

Saudi Arabia tries to reassure over rulers’ health

Key global player wants to show stability, responsibility; Confusion still surrounds rulers' health; Princes vie for position, fate of reforms at stake.

November 22, 2010 10:25 by

Saudi Arabia is anxious to show its allies there will be no power vacuum in the world’s biggest oil exporter as health problems beset its octogenarian rulers, but the danger of open disputes over succession remains.

King Abdullah heads to New York on Monday for treatment of a blood clot and slipped disc and Crown Prince Sultan makes a hasty return on Sunday after over two months in Morocco following almost two years of unspecified health problems.

A series of official announcements over the past week on the king’s health stand in contrast to the more opaque manner in which such affairs were handled in the past — reflecting a desire to reassure decades-long ally Washington that the ruling family’s handle on affairs remains firm in tense times.

“Everybody should know that we do have a system to resolve all unexpected situations. We know that Prince Sultan was ill and now we know the king is ill,” said prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is close to key princes.

“There will not be a vacuum because the allegiance council specified things. There is a system,” he said, referring to a council of senior princes set up by Abdullah to ensure consensus on future decisions on who becomes crown prince.

Though the Gulf Arab state controls more than a fifth of the world’s crude reserves and is a major holder of dollar assets and a major U.S. ally, it has no elected parliament or political parties. Its king is around 86 or 87 and his crown prince only a few years younger.

As home to Islam’s holiest sites as well as birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia is key to global efforts to fight Islamic militancy.

Washington wants Riyadh to continue social and economic reforms promoted by Abdullah that were seen as crucial after mainly Saudis carried out the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001.

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