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Afghan King to Return Home - 2002-04-16

Afghanistans interim government leader Hamid Karzai arrived in Rome Tuesday to accompany former king Mohammed Zahir Shah home from exile. The former king is expected to be back in Kabul on Thursday.

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai arrived in Rome accompanied by several of his governments ministers. He will be escorting home former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has been living in exile in Rome since he was deposed by his cousin in 1973.

Upon his arrival in the Italian capital, Mr Karzai said he was tremendously glad to take the former monarch home. The new Afghanistan welcomes all its sons, he said, including the former king, a fatherly figure and symbol of unity.

Mr Karzai will see the 87-year-old former monarch, and together they will meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They are expected to return to Kabul late Wednesday.

Mr. Zaher Shah will travel with around 20 family members and advisers in an Italian military jet that will land in an undisclosed country neighbouring Afghanistan. The group will then continue their journey onto Kabul in three separate military transport aircraft.

Mr. Zahir Shah had been expected to return to Afghanistan last month. But his return was postponed due to security threats. A team of 40 bodyguards of different ethnic groups is now awaiting him in Kabul to ensure the monarch's security.

The former king is eager to return to his homeland. His spokesman Hamid Sidiq said he is returning home to reunite Afghanistan, adding that he wants peace and prosperity for all Afghans. Many of his supporters see the former king as a well-respected figure who will help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

Back in his country, Mr. Zahir Shah is expected to convene a Loya Jirga, or Grand Council of elders in June that will select a new transitional government for Afghanistan. The new government will serve until general elections can be held.

The former king has said he will never leave his country again.