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Saudi King Salman's 'King's Bonus' Sparks Gold-Buying Boom

Saudi Arabia's new King Salman announced he would pay a "king’s bonus" to every government employee and student, sparking a gold-buying boom.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The recent death of Saudi Arabia's king provoked a public outpouring of grief in the Gulf kingdom — but it also appears to have sparked a gold and jewelry-buying boom.

As has become customary for incoming Saudi rulers, new King Salman announced last month that he would pay a "king's bonus" of two months' wages to every government employee and student. According to buyers and sellers in Riyadh's open-air gold and jewelry market — or "souk" — the recipients cannot spend it fast enough.

"There are more people than we can even manage to serve," said 32-year-old Ali Bin Ali, co-owner of Al Safwa Jewelry. On a visit by NBC News on Thursday, the souk was far busier than a regular weekday afternoon before King Abdullah's death, with most customers boasting small bags containing big purchases.

"The king’s bonus has just arrived and everyone has a feeling of being rich," Ali said, adding that sales at his store had tripled since the monarch announced the windfall late last month.

A jeweler shows a customer gold bangles in a jewelry shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.FAISAL AL NASSER / Reuters, file

One of the shoppers, 19-year-old Noura Al Ammar, said the bonus showed that King Salman "wants to share the wealth of the country with all the people. It shows that he cares about us and so we care about him as well." She added: "I love the king."

Saudi Arabia boasts the largest oil reserves in the world.

The payout may also serve as a welcome distraction from the threat of extremist groups such as ISIS, which has thrived in neighboring Iraq and threatens to influence Saudi Arabia's young population.

"Sometimes it is good to just think about something else," said 27-year-old computer programmer Fahad Al Harthy, who had bought a diamond-studded watch for his wife. "It is our time to be happy."

Riyadh Abu Haimed, another shopkeeper in the souk, had just pulled out one tray of Rolexes and another of Omega watches for his throng of customers.

"I am just happy," the 36-year-old said. "We haven’t seen business like this in a long time."