Saudi Arabia Increases Oil Production To 9.7 Million Barrels Per Day

King Abdullah has agreed that his country will increased output to 9.7 million barrels a day as he opened a summit on the soaring international price of crude.

Saudi Arabia will also give one billion dollars to an OPEC fund for developing countries and 500 million dollars in soft loans for poor countries to finance energy and development projects, he said.

"We are very concerned for consumers in all countries," the leader of the world's top oil exporter said as he formally launched the meeting seeking to find ways to stop spiralling price rises seen as a threat to the world economy.

"We have increased production in the past few months from nine million barrels a day to 9.7 million barrels," said the king.

"And we declare our readiness to meet any additional needs," he added.

The latest Saudi output hike took the kingdom's daily production to the highest level for more than two and a half decades.

Western powers at the Jeddah meeting have called on the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers to increase output to ease market tensions.

OPEC has in turn insisted that supply is adequate and that "speculators" are playing a key role in the doubling of the price of a barrel of crude to almost 140 dollars over the past year.

In his opening speech to conference delegates, King Abdullah appealed for the World Bank to help poor nations that are battling runaway energy costs.

"I call for launching the initiative of energy for the poor ... to help poor nations face the rising cost of energy," the king said.

"I call on the World Bank to organise a meeting for donor nations to discuss and activate this initiative."

Saudi Arabia had already increased output by 300,000 bpd last month after US President George W. Bush visited the oil-rich kingdom.

However, the output hike failed to stem soaring oil prices that have held stubbornly above 130 dollars per barrel. New York's light sweet crude oil hit a record 139.89 dollars last Monday.

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