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Kabul prepares for king's return

There have been concerns in Afghanistan over how best to protect the former king.
There have been concerns in Afghanistan over how best to protect the former king.  


ROME, Italy -- Afghanistan is preparing for the return of its exiled monarch after 29 years amid fears for his security after reported plots to assassinate him.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader, is in Rome to escort former king Mohammad Zahir Shah, 87, home on Thursday.

His return was due to take place last month, but was delayed by the United States and Italy over security concerns.

Italy, which has maintained responsibility for the king's security in exile, said the concerns have since been addressed.

A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday that there were no specific threats against the monarch.

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However, as a precaution, a personal bodyguard corps has been trained in Kabul by Swedish peacekeepers, and security for the villa where Zahir Shah will live has been reinforced, with the streets around it blocked off.

Also, Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police will take up positions inside the king's residence and will work alongside Afghan bodyguards until they can take over the job alone.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday that the police would remain in Kabul for up to three months.

Karzai dismissed the security concerns when he arrived in Rome on Tuesday, saying the situation in the capital Kabul was "perfect."

"I'm tremendously glad to take him back," Karzai said. "The new Afghanistan welcomes all its sons, including the former king of Afghanistan, a fatherly figure, a symbol of unity."

Kabul's Del Kushan palace, one of the four main palaces on the royal grounds near the Presidential Palace
Kabul's Del Kushan palace, one of the four main palaces on the royal grounds near the Presidential Palace  

Zahir Shah will arrive in Afghanistan aboard an Italian military C-130 transport plane outfitted to respond to possible missile attacks.

He has lived in Italy since 1973, when his cousin ousted him from power in a bloodless coup. Despite his three-decade exile, he is still seen as the only Afghan who can reconcile the country's ethnic and tribal factions after 23 years of war.

He spent his last full day of exile at his luxurious gated home on the outskirts of Rome with family members, preparing for the overnight flight from Rome to Kabul.

"He is very happy to prepare for his departure to Afghanistan," spokesman Hamid Sidiq said. "He is in very good health, and (has) very positive enthusiasm."



 
 
 
 






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