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Kuwait Emir Jaber dies, crown prince ailing

The illness in the past few years of both Sheikh Jaber and Sheikh Saad had sparked concern at home and abroad over who would rule Kuwait.

world Updated: Jan 15, 2006 14:05 IST

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, ruler of the tiny Gulf oil-producing state and a US ally, died on Sunday after a long illness, state media reported. He was 78.

Under the constitution, Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdulla al-Sabah, 76, will become emir of the OPEC nation.

But because illness has incapacitated Saad, political analysts expect Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to effectively run the country -- a role he has played over the past four years.

The illness in the past few years of both Sheikh Jaber and Sheikh Saad had sparked concern at home and abroad over who would rule Kuwait, which has one-tenth of global oil reserves and was the launchpad for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

"With the utmost of sorrow and sadness, the (royal court) announces to the Kuwaiti people, the Arab and Islamic nations and the peoples of friendly world nations the death of His Highness Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah," said a royal court statement carried by the state news agency KUNA.

It said the emir, who had ruled Kuwait since December 31, 1977, "passed away at dawn on Sunday".

Sheikh Jaber had been ailing since suffering a brain haemorrhage in 2001. He had surgery on his leg in the United States in May.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's troops occupied neighbouring Kuwait for seven months before US-led forces ousted them in the 1991 Gulf War.

Forty days of mourning

The emir returned from exile in Saudi Arabia to lead the rebuilding of a land scarred by killings, torture and brutal rule during the occupation. He also oversaw the rehabilitation of oilfields set on fire by retreating Iraqi troops.

Kuwait said there would be a 40-day official period of mourning and that government offices would be closed for three days from Sunday.

The emir was the 13th ruler of a 245-year-old dynasty that has ruled Kuwait since the Anaiza tribe, to which the al-Sabahs belonged, migrated from the Arabian hinterland.

Since the fall of Saddam in 2003 and US calls for change in the Middle East, the ruling family had come under intense pressure from both Islamists and pro-Western liberals to loosen its grip on the government and share power.

The ruling family had also been under pressure from parliament and elders within its ranks to break with tradition and replace the ailing crown prince.

The succession process alternates between the two branches of the ruling family -- al-Jabers and al-Salems.

Kuwait, a founder OPEC member, enjoys one of the world's highest standards of living, despite its reliance on oil exports, unpredictable oil income and huge losses from the 1990-1991 Iraq occupation.

It hosts up to 30,000 US troops and some 13,000 US citizens live in the country.

Kuwait has cracked down on Islamists opposing the US military presence in the country. Diplomats say radical Islam is taking hold among Kuwaiti youth.

First Published: Jan 15, 2006 13:16 IST