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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 16:18 GMT
Afghan king to return home
Former king of Afghanistan Zahir Shah
The former king is still special to many
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has dismissed reports that the former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, has delayed his return to Kabul by a month.

The king is returning to his people. It's his home

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai

Mr Karzai said the former king, who lives in Rome, has only delayed his return, which was scheduled for Monday, by two or three days.

Mr Karzai said Italian officials were in charge of the security surrounding the former king's return, and the government was taking their advice.

The 87-year-old former monarch has lived in Italy since he was overthrown by his cousin in a bloodless coup in 1973.

Mr Karzai is due to fly from Kabul to Rome on Sunday to accompany Zahir Shah on his journey home.

Unifying figure

"The king is returning to his people. It's his home," Mr Karzai said.

Welder repairs building in Kabul which will house the ex-king
The former king is now due back in April

Zahir Shah, who has said he only wants to live out his life on Afghan soil, is widely viewed as a possible force for unity among the country's often warring factions.

He is due to convene a special assembly - or loya jirga - in June that will choose a government to rule Afghanistan until elections can be held.

Officially Zahir Shah is coming as a private citizen.

Some monarchists have complained that the man once called "the Shadow of God" is not being treated in a fitting manner.

Others, particularly fundamentalists, do not want him in Afghanistan at all.

But the BBC's Kate Clark says the majority of people seem to believe that just by setting foot on Afghan soil, the former king could make everything better.

The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"The reason for the postponement is not clear"
See also:

22 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghan hopes ride on ex-king
28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's turbulent history
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's king in exile
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Rally for the return of Afghan king
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