Officials say King Fahd in stable condition

RIYADH (AFP) — King Fahd, the ruler of oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia, remained in hospital Saturday with a lung infection as worries about his health sent crude prices higher and the authorities insisted there was no cause for concern.
“His condition is stable… The results of medical tests make us reassured,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal told reporters.

It was the first official reference to the outcome of the examinations conducted after King Fahd was transferred to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital Friday evening.

The monarch, believed to be 84, has been frail since suffering a stroke a decade ago and has delegated the running of day-to-day affairs to his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah.

Prince Saud did not give details, but official sources earlier told AFP King Fahd had a lung infection.

Prince Abdullah, who is expected to eventually succeed King Fahd, has long represented Riyadh at such meetings and in talks with world leaders, visiting US President George W. Bush at his Texas ranch last month for the second time in three years.

The foreign minister’s remarks were in line with previous official statements reporting that King Fahd was in good shape after being admitted to hospital for medical tests.

Officials also dismissed reports that a state of alert has been declared in the vast kingdom, which has been battling a wave of violence by suspected Al Qaeda militants for the past two years.

“We have a law of governance. There is a crown prince, and if you ask any Saudi who will be the next king, he will answer you,” a senior Saudi official told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a document promulgated by King Fahd in 1992.

The situation on the streets of the capital was normal with no apparent extra police deployment except outside the hospital where the monarch was being treated and as part of arrangements for the Gulf summit.

“People don’t expect anything abnormal to happen. So there was actually no need to take any extra security measure whatsoever,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Mansur Turki told AFP. He had earlier denied reports that a state of alert was declared in the kingdom, which sits on a quarter of global oil reserves.

But oil markets reacted nervously to the news from Saudi Arabia, which is currently pumping 9.5 million barrels per day and has declared readiness to hike production to meet surging global demand.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, climbed 84 cents to $51.85 per barrel Friday. In London, the price of Brent North Sea crude oil for July delivery gained 54 cents to $50.70.

Gulf experts, however, said King Fahd’s state of health will not affect Saudi oil policy, which has been marked by stability under Prince Abdullah’s command.

Official sources told AFP late Friday that King Fahd was running a high temperature and suffering from a lung infection, necessitating a CT scan. But the sources insisted his condition was not alarming.

Medical sources also said he had a lung ailment, adding that the latest deterioration in the king’s health started a week earlier with a serious flu.

State television broadcast normal programmes Saturday and reported only the official statements about the monarch’s health, which also made front pages in the local press.

“Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in good health and medical examinations proceeding normally,” headlined Al Riyadh, while Al Jazeera also highlighted the denial that a state of alert had been declared.

Saudi Arabia hosts Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, and King Fahd is known as their custodian.

The health of the king, who ascended to the throne in 1982 and is the eighth son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, first deteriorated in November 1995 when he suffered a stroke.

Walking first with the help of a cane because of circulatory problems and diabetes, King Fahd took to wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes. He underwent several further operations and was soon confined to a wheelchair.

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