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Saudi King Fahd arrives in Switzerland

King Fahd (centre), who previously suffered a stroke, was taken off a plane in a wheelchair on Monday

(Keystone)

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has arrived in Switzerland on his first foreign trip in three years.

The 80-year-old monarch landed at Geneva's Cointrin airport on Monday night with a train of at least six "large" jets transporting several hundred staff and courtiers, and the royal luggage.

Two of the aircraft, including a Boeing 747, will remain at the airport for the duration of his stay, which remains unspecified.

King Fahd, who was taken off a plane in a wheelchair, was then driven to his palace in Collonge-Bellerive near Geneva, where he has never previously stayed.

The monarch apparently considered the residence too small and too lacking in security measures.

Lake Geneva

The king, who succeeded his half-brother Khaled in 1982, bought "La Villa de L'Aube" on Lake Geneva in the 1970s and has been gradually expanding the property ever since.

The Saudi mission in Geneva refused to give any details about the visit. Officially, the king's holiday is for an indefinite period.

But Saudi officials in Jeddah, speaking on condition of anonymity, said King Fahd would spend two months away from his kingdom - three weeks in Geneva and the remainder at his holiday villa in Marbella, on Spain's Costa del Sol.

Geneva police said no special security measures were taken on behalf of King Fahd, and he has been treated like any other head of state.

After his arrival at Cointrin, a guide vehicle was used, and police monitored the procession of limousines as they travelled to Collonge-Bellerive.

Grand palace

Today, the 17,000 m2 estate contains a two-storey palace, described as a "mini-Versailles", about a dozen other villas, all linked by a series of underground tunnels through which vehicles can travel. The estate has up to 100 garages to house the king's fleet of luxury cars.

The king, whose fortune is estimated at $30 billion -- he is among the five richest men on the planet -- was criticised by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and the Geneva Association for the Protection of Nature over some of his building plans.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's half-brother, has taken over the day-to-day running of the government since King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995.

The king last travelled abroad in 1999, when he made a two-month visit to his villa in the south of Spain, and had a blood clot removed from his left eye.

by Roy Probert and Adam Beaumont


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