Bulgarians hail 'Tsar' Simeon

The man who still likes to describe himself as "Tsar of all the Bulgars" returned to the land of his birth yesterday, almost 50 years after he was sent into exile, writes Adrian Bridge, Central Europe Correspondent.

A clearly emotional Simeon Coburg-Gotha - who ruled as Tsar Simeon II for three years in his boyhood - was welcomed by thousands of Bulgarians, who lined the streets chanting "Simeon" and "We want the crown". It was their first glimpse of their former monarch since 1946. The biggest crowds gathered at the Aleksander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia, where church bells rang out to commemorate his return.

Ostensibly, his homecoming is purely private. Certainly that is how the staunchly anti-monarchist Socialist government wants to see it, underlining the point by refusing to send anyone to the airport yesterday to greet him officially. Simeon has made no secret of the fact that he has not returned as a tourist. At 58, he believes he could yet have a role in helping Bulgaria in its transition from communism to democracy. Opinion polls indicate more than 40 per cent would support him in a presidential bid, with just 20 per cent in favour of a restoration of the monarchy.

Descended from German princes, he is related to many of Europe's royal families, including the Windsors. Exiled in Spain, he mastered several European languages and built a successful career as a businessman.