Middle East

Saudi king warns against unrest while boosting benefits

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah addressing the nation from his palace in Riyadh - 18 March 2011
Image caption It was the king's first speech since he arrived home last month from medical treatment abroad

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has warned that threats to the nation's security and stability will not be tolerated.

In a rare televised speech, he praised the Gulf state's security forces as the "shields of this homeland".

After he spoke, state TV announced a series of royal decrees promising a higher minimum wage, pay increases, an anti-corruption drive and an expansion of the security forces.

Saudi Arabia has largely escaped the mass protests shaking the Middle East.

But in the country's oil-rich Eastern Province, bordering Bahrain where Saudi Arabia has sent 1,000 troops to help quell unrest, there have been protests from the minority Shia Muslim population.

'Striking fist'

The new benefits amount to tens of billions of dollars in spending.

King Abdullah previously unveiled a package of $37bn (£22.7bn) in benefits for Saudi citizens when he returned home last month, after months spent convalescing from surgery in the US.

His statement and the royal decrees that followed failed to make any mention of an expected cabinet shuffle or any concessions on political rights.

Saudi politics is tightly controlled by the Sunni royal family.

"Dear brave men in all military sectors, especially your brothers the security personnel at the interior ministry, you are the shield of this homeland and the fist which strikes down anyone who dares threaten its security and stability. God bless you and all your good work," King Abdullah said in his three-minute address.

The 86-year-old king also appeared to praise Saudis for not answering an internet call for mass protests on 11 March.

"I am so proud of you. Words are not enough to describe you. You are the safety valve of this nation and you struck at that which is wrong with the truth, and at treachery with loyalty."

After his speech, state television announced a package of new welfare benefits that included:

  • A monthly minimum wage of 3,000 riyals (£500; $800) and two months' extra pay for government workers
  • Extra grants for university students
  • A monthly stipend of about $260 for the unemployed
  • 500,000 housing units for low-income earners
  • $4.3bn spending on medical facilities

State TV also announced that the king had ordered the creation of 60,000 new jobs within the security forces.

He also ordered the setting up of a commission to fight corruption.

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