Former Afghan king 'ready to return'

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The former king of Afghanistan is talking openly of the possibility of returning home from exile.

Mohammed Zahir Shah, who is said to be a comparatively healthy 86, compared the Taliban with an occupying force and accepts the use of foreign forces to end its rule.

He said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The intervention of foreign troops in any country is something that is not easy to accept but if it's an intervention such as we witnessed in Europe during the Second World War when the British, the Americans and the Canadians came down in France to get rid of the Nazis, this is different.

"But it has to be performed by a country that has proved it is a friend to the people and it has helped the freely-elected government in the country."

The former king ruled for 40 years until overthrown in the 1973 coup. Speaking through an interpreter (his cousin and special adviser) at his villa in Rome yesterday, he called for an assembly to draw up a democratic constitution and vote for either a republic or a monarchy.

"Even if it's a monarchy it will depend entirely on the people," he said.

He condemned the terrorist attacks on America and said he had sent condolences to President Bush. Osama bin Laden should be brought to justice if he were behind the attacks.

His hope was to see a happy Afghanistan that "at least gets rid of the 30 years of cruelty imposed on it."