Saudi king orders work on grand Medina mosque project

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Aerial view of the grand mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi state news agency reported on Tuesday King Abdullah has ordered the launch of a huge expansion project for the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in the holy city of Medina.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the expansion project, expected to be the largest of its kind, is set to begin after Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, at the end of October.

According to Saudi officials, the project will require the expropriation of lands that could cost the government some $6.6 billion in compensation.

The three-phase project is aimed at accommodating an added 1.6 million worshippers to its current capacity of 200,000.

The total cost of the project has not been released.

King Abdullah laid the foundation stone for the expansion project after flying in from Morocco where he has spent the past month.

The 88-year-old monarch is a frequent visitor to Morocco where his family owns palaces in Casablanca, the economic capital, and Agadir to the southwest.

King Abdullah left the new heir to the throne, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who is also deputy prime minister and defence minister, in charge of the oil-rich kingdom during his absence, SPA reported.

It was the first time the king had travelled abroad since he appointed Salman, 76, first in line to the throne in June following the death of crown prince Nayef ben Abdel Aziz at the age of 79.

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