UPDATE 1-Saudi King has successful back operation-royal court

RIYADH, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has

undergone successful back surgery at a hospital in the capital,

Riyadh, to tighten a loose ligament, the royal court said in a

statement carried by state media on Sunday.

The stability of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil

exporter and a key U.S. ally, is of global concern. The kingdom

holds more than a fifth of world crude reserves and is the

birthplace of Islam.

"A surgery was performed on the Custodian of the Two Holy

Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, at the National Guard's

King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh on Saturday ... where a

loose ligament in the upper back was tightened," the statement,

carried on state television and the SPA news agency, said.

"With God's help, the surgery ended at 0315 on Sunday

morning ... and thanks be to God it was successful," it added in

Arabic.

The king, in his late 80s, underwent an operation to tighten

ligaments around his third vertebra in October of last year and

had two rounds of back surgery in the United States in 2010

after suffering a herniated disc, leading to a three-month

recuperation period outside the kingdom.

His heir apparent and brother, Crown Prince Salman, normally

acts as his deputy in his absence.

King Abdullah, who took power in 2005 after the death of

King Fahd, named Salman heir apparent in June after the death of

Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz. Prince Salman is 13 years

younger than Abdullah.

Unlike in European monarchies, the line of succession does

not move directly from father to eldest son, but has moved down

a line of brothers born to the kingdom's founder, King Abdulaziz

Ibn Saud, who died in 1953.

While it faced some protests from minority Shi'ite Muslims

in its Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia avoided the kind of unrest

that toppled leaders across the Arab world last year after it

introduced generous social spending packages and issued a

religious edict banning public demonstrations.

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