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Saudi King Fahd recoveringfrom bout of pneumonia

Saudi King Fahd, whose oil-rich kingdom became a close U.S. ally during his 23-year rule, was reported ‘stable and improving’ Sunday. The king’s temperature was back to normal but he remained in intensive care, an official said.
Saudi Arabia's King Fahd in April 2001. He has gradually withdrawn from world events since 1995 when he suffered a stroke.
Saudi Arabia's King Fahd in April 2001. He has gradually withdrawn from world events since 1995 when he suffered a stroke.Joseph Barrak / AFP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Saudi King Fahd was recovering from the pneumonia that sent him to the hospital last week, a hospital official said, citing chest X-rays taken Sunday.

The king’s condition was “stable and improving” and his temperature was back to normal but he remains in intensive care, said the official at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh.

Fahd was hospitalized on Friday for unspecified medical tests. Concerned Saudis have closely followed health updates on the king, believed to be 82, who brought the oil-rich kingdom closer to the United States during more than two decades as monarch.

Asked when the king would be released, the official said: “That is for his doctors to decide.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Turki Awad, a 40-year-old Defense Ministry employee, said he was reassured by Sunday’s announcement. “We’re not worried because the king has a very good medical team,” Awad said. “We hope he will be back home soon.”

Saudi newspapers reported the king’s health on their front pages, quoting a statement issued Saturday by the royal court that said medical tests had shown Fahd’s condition was “stable and reassuring.”

Strategic importance
Fahd, king since 1982, suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. His half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, has been Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler since then and is expected to become king should Fahd die.

But Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance as the holder of the world’s largest oil reserves and the home of Islam’s two holiest shrines means even a stable succession could have an impact on world markets and have widespread political fallout.

In the capital, life seemed normal, with offices, schools and shops open and no extra security presence visible. The interior ministry denied earlier reports that the country was on alert, and newspapers also said no state of emergency had been declared. A previously scheduled meeting of Gulf leaders was going ahead as planned.

Fahd, who is believed to be 82, was admitted to the King Faisal hospital on Friday, the official Saudi Press Agency said. One official said doctors believed the monarch had pneumonia. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position.

Turki Abdelaziz Al-Washmi, 27, was concerned about the seriousness of the king’s condition, noting that previous hospitalizations had mentioned specific ailments.

“King Fahd is a father figure for all of us. I’m praying that he gets well soon. I pray that God gives him health,” Al-Washmi said.

Saudi television station Al-Ekhbariya reported that Abdullah assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a phone call late Friday that Fahd’s health was good and medical examinations were going normally.

Oil market affected
The Saudi stock market tumbled 5 percent earlier in the week amid reports of Fahd’s deteriorating health. Friday’s news that he was hospitalized helped push crude oil futures to near $52 a barrel ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the United States, the start of the American summer driving season.

During his rule, Fahd brought the kingdom closer to the United States. His most significant action was a step that enraged many Islamic extremists — allowing the basing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born al Qaida leader, cited the U.S. troops’ presence as a main provocation for launching the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a wave of violence inside the kingdom.

The U.S. military withdrew all its combat forces from Saudi Arabia in 2003 after major combat operations in Iraq were declared over. But a small military contingent stayed behind in a training and advisory role to Saudi armed forces.

Action against militants
Fahd suffered short-term memory loss and an inability to concentrate for long stretches after his 1995 stroke. With the portly, goateed Fahd largely a figurehead since then, it has been Abdullah who has overseen the kingdom’s crackdown on militants. Abdullah tried to rebuild relations with the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks; 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have been talking in recent months about organizing joint training exercises for U.S. and Saudi ground combat forces on Saudi territory.

Fahd is the son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz. During his rule, Fahd tried to balance overtures toward the West with concessions to hard-liners, hoping to boost his Islamic credentials. He had himself named the custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites, in the western Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.