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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 11:30 GMT
Crunch time for ill Kuwait ruler
Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah
The emir Sheikh Saad has taken little part in public life
Kuwait's new emir is poised to abdicate to solve a constitutional crisis in the ruling Sabah family, officials say.

The move would avoid an unprecedented vote in parliament to force Sheikh Saad from office on health grounds.

But the Saudi-owned Arabiya TV station reports that a deal between the ruler and the prime minister, who is set to replace him, has been held up.

The abdication had been expected early on Tuesday morning, but so far nothing has been announced officially.

Parliament has twice postponed a debate on the emir's medical condition, reports say, after he asked for more time to consider his position.

Sheikh Saad is a popular figure in Kuwait, though he has played little part in public life recently because of chronic poor health.

I never wanted things to reach the point of removing his highness the emir
Hussein al-Qallaf, MP
He appeared only briefly during condolences for his late cousin Emir Sheikh Jaber last week - in a wheelchair receiving handshakes and kisses on the shoulder from mourners.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, the prime minister, has been running the country for several years and is the preferred candidate for emir among most of the Sabah family.

'Avoiding complications'

A government official earlier said the abdication was unconditional and had been decided in the interests of Kuwait.

"It spared the country a lot of complications," the official said, quoted by Associated Press.

The agreement reportedly came after a meeting between Sheikh Sabah and the emir's leading supporter Sheikh Salem al-Ali al-Sabah, who is chief of the national guard.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah
Sheikh Sabah has in effect been running the country for years
MPs expressed relief that they would not have to decide on how to end the conflict between different branches of the ruling family.

"Lawmakers don't want to take sides," said Walid Tabtabai, from the Islamist faction.

Hussein al-Qallaf, a Shia MP, said: "I never wanted things to reach the point of removing his highness the emir."

Constitutionally, parliament can remove an emir on health grounds with a two-thirds majority, after it has been asked by cabinet.

The cabinet sent a letter to parliament on Monday saying the emir had "lost his health capability to exercise his constitutional prerogatives".

Soon afterwards, an announcement from the emir's side said he wanted to take the oath of office before parliament met.

Some legislators said they would boycott the debate, if the ruling family could not sort out its differences.

Rival branches

Tradition in the Sabah ruling dynasty stipulates that the position of emir should alternate between the two main branches of the family.

These are the Jaber branch, of which Sheikh Sabah and the late emir are members, and the Salem branch which produced Sheikh Saad.

The public conflict between the two branches over the succession stunned the normally tranquil circles of Kuwaiti politics.

However, there do not appear to be any fundamental differences between the two branches, correspondents say, and Kuwait's oil policy and pro-Western stance are expected to continue.

The emirate controls about 10% of the world's proven oil reserves and is a key US ally in the region.

Sheikh Saad is the son of the founder of modern Kuwait, Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem, and is remembered fondly for his role in rallying support during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.

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