Grand welcome for King Abdullah

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah arrived here Wednesday to a grand welcome after being away from the Kingdom for three months for treatment following a slipped disc.“I am in good health and hope all Saudi people are fine,” the king said on arrival at the airport.He was received at King Khaled International Airport by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain; Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation; Prince Naif, second deputy premier and minister of interior; and other senior princes and officials including Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman.Riyadh was in a festive mood to receive the king who was returning home after a three-month absence to undergo medical treatment abroad. The city was decked up with national flags and massive banners extending a warm welcome to the king. While returning from the airport, the king waved at people who were standing on the streets to welcome him with Saudi flags.As part of the celebrations to mark the king’s return to the Kingdom, the government announced Tuesday that all government departments, ministries, schools and universities will remain closed on Saturday. Bankers said that they have not got any intimation as yet from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency about a bank holiday on Saturday.In appreciation of the unprecedented joy and happiness shown toward his recovery, the king unveiled a series of measures for the benefit of citizens estimated to be worth SR135 billion ($36 billion).King Abdullah flew in from Casablanca, Morocco, where he had been recuperating following two surgeries at New York Presbyterian Hospital in the United States. The first surgery extracted the clot and corrected the disc while the second was done to stabilize several vertebrae on the spinal cord. He left the hospital on Dec. 21.In a statement on the occasion, Prince Sultan commended the king’s care for citizens. King Abdullah has been following developments within and outside the Kingdom while he was abroad, he said. “The king always inquired about the condition of citizens and issued his directives to meet their requirements and enhance their welfare,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the crown prince as saying.

Speaking about the royal decrees issued by the king on Wednesday, Prince Sultan said it would enhance the welfare and prosperity of Saudi citizens. “The glad tidings of the decrees coincide with our tremendous happiness at the king’s safe return,” he said.The crown prince underscored the rapid strides achieved by different sectors under the leadership of King Abdullah. He also noted the king’s efforts for the success of Arab and Islamic causes.King Hamad, who came to Riyadh to greet the Saudi ruler, congratulated the Saudi royal family and people on the king’s safe return from abroad after gaining full recovery. He thanked Saudi Arabia for its continuous support to Bahrain.Popular festivals have been planned in different parts of the Kingdom to celebrate the king’s return. Makkah Mayor Osama Al-Bar said the municipality has planned a number of activities in the holy city to mark the happy occasion. Makkah’s streets have been decorated with Saudi flags, king’s photos and colorful works.

Another festival is planned in the Eastern Province, beginning Thursday. Muhammad Al-Sufyan, spokesman at the Mayoralty in Dammam, said a three-day celebration would be organized in the seafront with a variety of cultural programs including folk dances and musical performances.Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional Bedouin sword dance on special carpets laid out at the airport in Riyadh as part of the ceremonies to mark the king’s return.King Abdullah issued a series of royal decrees on Wednesday for the welfare of Saudis and solve their economic and unemployment problems. He allocated SR40 billion to increase the capital of the Real Estate Development Fund in order to provide more housing loans to Saudis. He also increased the capital of Saudi Credit Bank from SR10 billion to SR30 billion by allocating SR20 billion for provision of soft loans. The decrees were issued as an expression of happiness and thanks on his safe return to the homeland.Housing loan repayments will be waived for those who have passed away. Applicants who borrow loans from the REDF will be exempted from payment for two years after paying the first two installments. The ministry of finance will reimburse the needed funds for the new provision.

According to one decree, the number of family members benefiting from social insurance has been increased from eight to 15, the Saudi Press Agency said, adding that SR1 billion has been set aside for the purpose. He ordered the creation of 1,200 jobs in supervision programs and made permanent a 15 percent cost-of-living allowance for government employees.King Abdullah allocated SR3.5 billion to help the poor repair their houses and pay electric and water bills and SR1.2 billion to conduct vocational training courses for women, SPA said.The king also set up a high-level ministerial committee to find a quick solution to the employment of the growing number of graduates in the public and private sectors. The committee should present its report within four months.As part of the government’s efforts to fight unemployment, a part of the financial resources of the Human Resource Development Fund will be allocated to provide assistance to unemployed youth for a year. In the meantime, the General Organization for Social Insurance will set up a cooperative insurance program for the unemployed.

King Abdullah issued another decree increasing annual allocations for charitable organizations by 50 percent to reach SR450 million. Cooperative societies will also receive SR100 million annually while two projects of the National Charitable Fund will get SR100 million. He also allocated SR476 million to support poor students and urged authorities to allocate a percentage of seats at universities for them.King Abdullah raised the budget of the General Housing Authority by SR15 billion. He also extended the period of King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program for another five years and said Saudis studying abroad on their accounts would be included in the program on the basis of certain conditions.The staff of the General Auditing Bureau, Control and Investigation Board, Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution and the Royal Court will be increased by adding 300 employees each.King Abdullah ordered the release of public rights prisoners on certain conditions and payment of debts of people jailed for nonpayment of debts. Payments will also be arranged for prisoners who are unable to pay blood money after traffic accidents.

He allocated SR10 million to support literary clubs and ordered payment of SR10 million each to excellent sports clubs, SR5 million each to every first class club and SR2 million for every registered sports club. Specialized professional associations in the Kingdom will also receive SR10 million each. King Abdullah also ordered increase in salaries and benefits for government employees, SPA said.A supplementary amount of SR3.5 billion will be allocated for the implementation of social security programs such as purchase of furniture, bags and school uniforms for children, purchasing discount cards, financial support for the payment of electricity and water bills, and housing repairs.Saudi students who are studying abroad will now come under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The specialties of subjects followed by such students should include medicine, applied health sciences, pharmacology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, computing, law, accounting and e-trade – Arabnews