08/01/2005, 00.00
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Saudi Arabia: King Fahd is dead

Oil prices rise to more than 61 dollars per barrel; the date of the extraordinary meeting of the Arab League in Sharm el-Sheik has been postponed indefinitely.

 Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has died after years of ill-health, according to sources close to the royal family. The monarch, who was believed to have been born in 1923, died today at dawn local time in the Re Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, where he had been confined for the past two months because of respiratory problems.

Today Saudi state television interrupted its regular broadcasting with recitations of the Koran before officially announcing the news, as is the Muslim tradition when an eminent personality dies.

State television also reported that Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz – to date the crown prince and heir to the throne – has been appointed the king of the oil-rich state. Sultan, former Defence Minister of the Wahabite Kingdom, will step into Abdullah's shoes. Since 1995, Prince Abdullah has been responsible for Saudi oil matters; this was the year in which Fahd was struck by a crippling stroke.

"I am sure that nothing will change in Saudi oil policies," said a Saudi source. But after the news of Fahd's death, the price of oil in New York splashed up to 61.11 US dollars per barrel. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter and it possesses a quarter of global black gold reserves.

Amr Moussa, general secretary of the Arab League, said the extraordinary meeting of the Arab League, which should have started on 3August in Sharm el-Sheikh, will most probably be postponed because of the death of the Saudi king. Moussa said contacts are under way to fix a new date. The summit was called by Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, a few days after the 23 July attacks in the tourist resort on the Red Sea. 

Fahd acceded to the throne in 1982. He guided Saudi Arabia through the most turbulent era in its history, which saw the kingdom survive two Gulf Wars only to have to confront Islamic extremism which condemned his backing for the USA.

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