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Fri 25 Feb 2011 08:36 AM

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Saudi king healthy but needs physiotherapy, says health minister

King Abdullah return home Wednesday after treatment for a blood clot that had complicated a slipped disc

Saudi king healthy but needs physiotherapy, says health minister
King Abdullah spent the past four weeks in Morocco for recuperation and physiotherapy

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who spent three months abroad for medical treatment, is healthy but needs to continue his physiotherapy, the kingdom's health minister told the state news agency SPA on Friday.

On Wednesday, the king, who is around 87, returned to the top oil exporter after treatment for a blood clot that had complicated a slipped disc.

He twice underwent surgery in New York and spent the past four weeks in Morocco for recuperation and physiotherapy.

"The custodian of the holy mosques ... is in natural health but needs to continue the physiotherapy he started in New York," Health Minister Abdullah al Rabeeah told the agency on Friday.

"He will continue the physiotherapy that he started a long time ago but that does not stop the custodian of the holy mosques from practising his office like he did when he was outside the kingdom," the minister added.

The political stability of the kingdom is of global importance because Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of oil reserves, is a major US ally and holder of dollar assets.

While Abdullah was away, the slightly younger Crown Prince Sultan, his half-brother, was running the Gulf Arab state but doubts about his fitness remain as he spent much of the past two years abroad for sickness.

With both leaders in their 80s, succession is looming.

If both became incapacitated, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who is around 76, stands the best chance of becoming king after he got promoted to second deputy prime minister in 2009, diplomats say.

Analysts say Nayef appears lukewarm on social and economic reforms which Abdullah started after taking office in 2005.