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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK

World: Africa

Dissident returns to Morocco

Things have changed at the Royal Palace since King Hassan's death

Morocco's most prominent dissident, Abraham Serfaty, has returned to his homeland after eight years exile in France.

BBC Rabat Correspondent Nick Pelham: "It's taken the death of King Hassan to bring Mr Serfati back"
The elderly communist leader was an ardent foe of the late King Hassan II, and royal permission for him to return is being seen as a major breakthrough.

Mr Serfaty flew to the capital Rabat on Thursday accompanied by his French wife, the human rights activist Christine Daure.

There was an enthusiastic welcome at the airport from supporters and an official reception, including Justice Minister Omar Azziman.

He arrived in a wheelchair and was immediately whisked away to a hotel in Rabat, where Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi was expected to meet him during the night.

Symbol of struggle

Mr Serfaty told reporters outside the hotel: "I am returning with no conditions and no negotiations".

[ image: King Mohammed (centre) agreed to the dissident's swift return]
King Mohammed (centre) agreed to the dissident's swift return
He expressed his gratitude to King Mohammed VI, to whom he had written 10 days ago asking to be allowed to return quickly to Morocco.

He said he would take his place "in the construction of a modern and democratic Morocco under the leadership of his majesty the king".

The BBC's Rabat correspondent, Nick Pelham, says Mr Serfaty symbolised the struggle against political repression under Hassan II.

A radical student and union leader in the 1960s, Mr Serfaty spent 17 years in jail accused of seeking to overthrow the king and establish a republic.

A new page

In 1991 King Hassan stripped him of his Moroccan nationality, saying his father was a Brazilian Jew, and sent him into exile in France.

Asked to comment on Hassan's death last July, Mr Serfaty has said he felt neither bitterness, nor joy, nor pain.

[ image: Serfaty was accused of trying to overthrow King Hassan]
Serfaty was accused of trying to overthrow King Hassan
"A page has turned. As far as Hassan the man is concerned, history will be the judge," he said.

Mr Serfaty's return is the latest in a series of changes that have swept Morocco.

This week the palace replaced the head of the secret service organisation, the DST, and appointed a new co-ordinator to handle the UN-sponsored peace process in Western Sahara.

The exiled family of Mehdi Ben Barka, the government opponent who disappeared in 1965, are also reported to have been given permission to return in December to celebrate Ramadan.

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