DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has been admitted to a hospital in the capital, Riyadh, for medical tests due to inflammation of the gallbladder, the kingdom’s Royal Court said Monday in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The statement said the 84-year-old monarch is being tested at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. The brief statement did not provide further details.
The hospital frequently treats royal family members, including recently those who’ve contracted the coronavirus. The facility is specialized in transplant surgeries, research and training programs.
King Salman has been in power since January 2015. He is considered the last Saudi monarch of his generation of brothers who have held power since the death of their father and founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz.
His health is closely watched by observers because of the absolute powers he holds presiding over one of the world’s top producers of oil and one of its biggest economies.
Salman’s reign has been marked by quick, sweeping changes in a country accustomed to slow, gradual reforms. Since coming to power, he’s taken the country to war in Yemen, hardened the kingdom’s stance toward Shiite rival Iran and severed ties with neighboring Qatar.
He’s empowered his 34-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as his successor. The crown prince’s assertive and bold style of leadership, as well as his consolidation of power and sidelining of potential rivals, has been controversial.
With the support of his father, Prince Mohammed has transformed the kingdom in recent years, opening it up to tourists and eroding decades of ultraconservative restrictions in the society as he tries to diversify the Saudi economy away from reliance on oil exports. The prince has also detained dozens of activists and critics, overseen the devastating Yemen war as defense minister and rounded up top members of the royal family in his quest for power.
The crown prince has been stalked by suspicion since the brutal slaying of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018. Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul drew international condemnation and cast a shadow over Prince Mohammed — even as the kingdom insisted the crown prince had nothing to do with the killing, which was carried out by officials who worked directly for him.
The Saudi king has not been seen in public in recent months due to social distancing guidelines and concerns over the spread of the coronavirus inside the kingdom, which has one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East. He has been shown, however, in state-run media images attending virtual meetings with his Cabinet and has held calls with world leaders, including as recently as Saturday with Kuwait’s ruling emir.
Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi postponed a planned visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday following news of the king’s condition, said Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan. A delegation of Iraqi officials had already arrived to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the visit. This would have been al-Kadhimi’s first visit to the kingdom as prime minister.
King Salman, who oversees Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, was crown prince under King Abdullah and served as defense minister. For more than 50 years prior to that, he was governor of Riyadh, overseeing its evolution from a barren city to a teeming capital.
On Sunday, Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler underwent a “successful” surgery that required the oil-rich nation’s crown prince to be temporarily empowered to serve in his place, its state-run news agency reported. Kuwait has yet to elaborate what required Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah to seek a previously unannounced medical treatment beginning Saturday.