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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Afghan king resting after return
Zahir Shah (centre) at his residence in Kabul
Zahir Shah said he will never leave Afghanistan again
Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, is spending his first day back in his former homeland recovering, following a tiring and emotional homecoming.

The 87-year-old returned to Afghanistan on Thursday after 29 years in exile.

I am glad to return here

Zahir Shah
He was not scheduled to make any public appearances on Friday, after journeying overnight from Italy.

The ex-monarch is settling in to his residence in the upmarket neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who accompanied the king back from Rome, said Zahir Shah would address the nation soon.

Speaking on Italian television on Thursday, after arriving his heavily-guarded two storey house, the former ruler said he was glad to be back.

Unifying force

Zahir Shah - now a private citizen - has said he has no plans to return to power.

Zahir Shah
Zahir Shah:
  • 1914: Born in Kabul
  • 1933: Became king after father's assassination
  • 1964: Introduced range of democratic reforms
  • 1973: Deposed in a coup, exiled to Italy

      Full profile

  • His family, however, said he would agree to lead the nation if asked to do so by a loya jirga, or gathering of Afghan elders, due to meet in June.

    Zahir Shah was deposed by his cousin in 1973 and has spent the last three decades in Italy.

    He is one of the few figures in Afghanistan considered popular enough to unite the country's fragmented ethnic groups and his return has been widely welcomed.

    Abdullah said Zahir Shah's role "will be to promote national unity".

    "He can travel throughout the country if his health conditions allow, which for the time being are perfect," he said.

    Requests for meetings

    The foreign minister said many provincial leaders had requested meetings with the former monarch but he was not receiving any visitors at the moment.

    There was tight security around Kabul's ancient Widgah mosque on Friday, raising speculation Zahir Shah might pay a visit during the Muslim holy day.

    He is also expected to visit shortly the grave, in southern Kabul, of his father, Nadir Shah, who was assassinated in 1933.

    Zahir Shah has said he will never leave Afghanistan again and will die among his people.

    The BBC's Lyse Doucet
    "He only wishes to be close to his people again"
    Daiva Vilkelyte, Intl. Organisation for Migration
    "We have received over 4,000 applicants from people willing to return"
    Organiser of the ex-king's return Abdul Khaliq Fazal
    "He is here as a symbol of unity"
    Kabul University's Parwez Bezmal
    "We think that peace and stability will soon come"
    See also:

    19 Apr 02 | South Asia
    Ex-king a sign of better times
    18 Apr 02 | South Asia
    In pictures: Afghan ex-king returns
    17 Apr 02 | South Asia
    No ordinary homecoming
    15 Apr 02 | South Asia
    Afghans elect first representatives
    27 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Threats to Afghan king mount
    07 Oct 01 | South Asia
    Rally for the return of Afghan king
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