Kabul joy as ex-king returns
Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
The former king (r) is seen as a unifying figure
Former Afghan king Zahir Shah has returned to Kabul from Italy amid tight security after 29 years in exile.
Delegations from all over Afghanistan - holding flowers and pictures of the former king - greeted him at the airport, overjoyed at his return.
His return coincided with news that a US fighter plane had accidentally bombed a group of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, killing four and injuring eight of them.
The incident happened during a routine training exercise near the southern city of Kandahar.
In Kabul, a newly-trained Afghan honour guard stood to attention as the 87-year-old former monarch stepped off an Italian military plane.
Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, ruled for 40 years until he was deposed by a cousin while on holiday in Italy in 1973.
Symbol of past
He returned as an ordinary citizen - but he may have a significant political role to play. He is widely seen as a symbol of a kinder, pre-war Afghanistan, our correspondent says.
Hamid Karzai (left) escorted Zahir Shah back from Rome
He was escorted home from Italy by Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, and six government ministers.
General Abdul Rashid Dostam - a powerful faction leader in the north and interim deputy defence minister - walked alongside Zahir Shah at the airport.
The former king, wearing a brown leather jacket, was kissed by tribal elders before heading off for his newly restored villa in a bullet-proof Mercedes.
Well-armed international peacekeepers and Afghan troops lined the road to the airport, backed by tanks and other armoured vehicles.
Zahir Shah has said he never intends to leave Afghanistan again.
In a sign of political sensitivities surrounding his return, there was no announcement of it on radio or television. And there were no flags or welcoming banners in the city streets.
A bomb blast which reportedly killed three people in the southeastern town of Khost on Thursday served to heighten security concerns.
The former king still commands considerable respect
The Afghan Islamic Press agency said the blast happened in a busy market and a number of people were also injured. It was the third in the town since the fall of the Taleban regime.
The ex-king's return had been postponed several times, due to security concerns.
Last week, there was an assassination attempt on the Afghan defence minister, and early this month more than 200 people were arrested on suspicion of planning a bombing campaign against the ex-king and Mr Karzai.
Zahir Shah's family is no stranger to political violence; he came to the throne in 1933 after his father, Nadir Shah, was assassinated.
Italian security forces, Afghan guards and the international force in Kabul are taking part in the operation to protect him.
Once home, a special detachment of 40 carabinieri will continue to protect him for several months while they train his own security personnel.
For Mr Karzai's administration, the return of Zahir Shah is a litmus test of how safe Kabul now is.
Mr Karzai, along with many ordinary Afghans and Western officials, is hopeful that Zahir Shah will act as a unifying figure for Afghanistan's many ethnic groups.
But observers say some powerful figures - including members of the Northern Alliance - are wary of his return, fearing it could provide a rallying point for their opponents.
The former monarch has been living with his family in a gated community in a Rome suburb ever since he was deposed.
He has said that he is not coming with the intention of reclaiming the throne of Afghanistan, but he is expected to open the loya jirga or grand tribal council to be convened in June.
The loya jirga, to which elections have begun, will choose an 18-month transitional government to replace Mr Karzai's interim administration.
Ex-Afghan king arrives in Kabul after 29 years in exile
Thursday April 18, 3:54 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ex-king Mohammad Zahir Shah stepped on to the soil of his homeland on Thursday after 29 years exile in Italy, carrying on his frail shoulders hopes for a sea change in the nation's warring politics.
The historic return of the 87-year-old Zahir Shah, as an ordinary citizen who will not take back the throne, placed the ailing former monarch into a possibly significant political role.
As he stepped onto a red carpet at Kabul airport, about 200 people, including some feuding warlords attending as a symbol of their loyalty, cheered and applauded the ex-king's arrival.
After Italian and other security guards left the Italian C-130 plane that brought him back from exile, the king, wearing a brown leather jacket and still a regal figure, was the first person out of the aircraft.
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, a distant cousin of the king, and like him a majority Pashtun, walked on one side of Zahir Shah. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful Uzbek warlord from the north, walked on the other side.
Six government ministers went with Karzai to Rome to escort home Zahir Shah and his family.
Young children presented flowers to a monarch described as an ascetic who ruled Afghanistan as a moderniser for 40 years until deposed by a cousin while on holiday in Italy in 1973.
During his three-decade absence, the land of 23 million people, once a safe and popular stop on the Asian hippy trail, descended into a hell hole of death and devastation.
The United Nations estimates 1.5 million Afghans have died, two million have been wounded and five million made refugees in fighting that started in 1979 with the Soviet invasion.
From 1992, when the Soviets withdrew, until 1996, rival warlords fought a civil war.
In 1996 the Taliban took over until they were driven out last December by U.S.-led forces pursuing Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September 11 suicide attacks on the United States.
SENSITIVE RETURN HOME
In a sign of the sensitivity of the king's return, there was no announcement on radio or television. Only at the airport were there flags and banners of welcome. They, as well as crowds, were absent from Kabul streets.
The king stepped onto home soil on a day of tragedy and violence for Afghans and international troops pursuing Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda fighters and ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who gave him sanctuary.
Four Canadian troops died and eight were wounded on the eve of the king's arrival when a U.S. F-16 warplane dropped one or two 500-pound (225-kg) bombs on them during a training exercise just outside the southern city of Kandahar, once Mullah Omar's headquarters.
They were the first Canadian deaths in an offensive combat operation since the 1950-53 Korean War.
In the eastern city of Khost, long a centre of Taliban unrest, provincial officials said three Afghans died in a bomb attack on a busy market just hours before the king's arrival.
It was the third bomb blast in the city since Karzai took power.
Lieutenant Colonel Roman Horak of the 18-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which was on hand for the king's arrival, said a safe arrival would help Karzai's struggle for legitimacy five months after he was installed at a gathering organised by United Nations in Bonn.
KING ARRIVES 90 MINUTES LATE
"The last few years of my life, I'd like to dedicate that to the people of Afghanistan and to my country," Zahir Shah told CNN in an interview hours before he left Rome.
The plane carrying the former king, Afghan ministers, security personnel, a personal doctor and family members left from a military airport outside Rome shortly after midnight (2200 GMT), about an hour later than scheduled.
It stopped briefly in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on the way to Kabul.
Karzai has gambled the monarch's return will not upset a delicate balance of power that has ruled since the fundamentalist Taliban were driven from power.
Ethnic Tajiks from northern Afghanistan, who were in the forefront of the U.S.-led war against the Taliban, control the powerful defence, interior and foreign ministries even though they are a minority.
Pashtuns, mainly from southern Afghanistan, hope the king can become a rallying figure for them, particularly at a Loya Jirga, or grand council, in June that will either endorse Karzai's Western-backed administration or choose a new government.
Zahir Shah went from living in an ancient palace filled with retainers and priceless art to the seclusion of a villa in Rome when he was overthrown by a cousin in 1973. He now takes up residence at a two story house in Kabul's most exclusive suburb.
TIGHT SECURITY AMID GROWING VIOLENCE
The ex-king's reign was marked by women getting the vote and establishment of the first modern university.
The king, fluent in French, English and Farsi, studied in France and is portrayed as an ascetic steeped in arts, Persian poetry and world history.
But opponents dismiss Zahir Shah as an ineffectual ruler who was off hunting and fishing while the storm clouds that led to Afghanistan's decades of war were gathering.
He is also derided for sitting out the wars in Rome and rarely trying to influence developments in his battered nation.
The former king's return was put back from last month following security threats.
About 50 Italian security guards were with the former king and will protect him for three months.
Ironically Karzai, responsible for bringing the king home, now lives in his palace.
The former king has said he will never leave Afghanistan once he returns.
Thursday April 18, 7:14 PM
OTTAWA (Reuters) - A U.S. F-16 warplane dropped one or two 500-pound (225 kg) laser-guided bombs on Canadian soldiers involved in a live-fire exercise in a clearly defined training zone in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing four and wounding eight others, Canadian General Ray Henault said.
The deaths early Thursday were the first Canadian casualties in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and the first casualties Canada has suffered in offensive combat operations since the 1950-53 Korean War. They came just three days after the most recent U.S. casualties in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised a thorough investigation to determine how the incident, which took place at 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT) Wednesday, could have happened.
"(U.S.) President (George W.) Bush called me tonight to offer the sincerest condolences of the American people to the Canadian families. He also pledged complete cooperation with Canadian authorities, who will carry out a thorough and complete investigation," Chretien said.
Henault said the U.S. plane clearly misidentified the Canadian forces, who were conducting a live-fire training exercise in the dark early hours of Thursday morning, Afghanistan time, in a recognised training zone south of Kandahar.
"We remain committed in our duty to this campaign and will certainly continue," said Henault, chief of the defense staff, at a midnight news conference in Ottawa.
Henault said the F-16 would have been on a patrol of the skies above Afghanistan, on well-controlled routes, and was not connected with the training exercise. He said the plane would normally have had to get permission from the ground before attacking.
He said the Canadian troops were only firing at ground targets during the nighttime exercise.
"My understanding is that there was no hostile activity in the area that would have created this incident," Henault said, adding however that details were still sketchy. "How this sort of thing could happen is a mystery to us."
Because the exercise was in the middle of the night, he said there was no way for the fighter flying at high altitude to visually identify the nationality of the Canadian troops before unleashing the 500-pound (225-kg) bomb or bombs.
Henault said six of the injuries were serious, and the soldiers would be evacuated to a U.S. medical facility either in nearby Uzbekistan or at Ramstein in Germany. Two who were slightly injured will remain in Kandahar, base of the more than 800 Canadian troops serving with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The bodies of the four who were killed will be transferred to Ramstein on Thursday en route to Canada.
Five hundred Canadians had led U.S. troops without casualties in an offensive in March in eastern Afghanistan, where they were flushing out caves thought to have harbored fighters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
On Monday, four U.S. troops were killed and one was badly injured while blowing up unexploded ordnance near Kandahar.
More than 30 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan or in the region since the United States began a campaign on Oct. 7 that toppled the ruling Taliban and routed the al Qaeda network in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Before Wednesday, non-U.S. military deaths among Western coalition forces had included an Australian, two Germans and three Danes.
Chretien said the Canadian casualties were an awful blow.
"Yet is my hope that some comfort may be found in the knowledge that those who have been taken were serving their country with valor and gallantry in a great struggle for justice and freedom," he said.
Thursday April 18, 2:51 PM
NEW DELHI, April 18 Asia Pulse - The tourism industry in South Asia was "practically annihilated" following the September 11 terror strike and the war in Afghanistan, with the region witnessing a negative growth rate at minus 24 per cent, a top global tourism official said on Wednesday.
"The last 4 months of 2001 painted a very different picture with South Asia's tourism industry being practically annihilated," Francesco Frangialli, Secretary General of World Tourism Organisation [WTO], said in his keynote address at the concluding session of the Pacific Asia Travel Association [PATA] meet here.
He said the "uncertainty" which the world faced in the aftermath of the terror strikes combined with the proximity of the region to the fighting in Afghanistan caused South Asia "to experience a growth rate of minus 24 per cent in international tourist arrivals between September and December".
The overall arrival experienced by the region during 2001 was "a loss of 6.4 per cent in international tourist arrivals", he said, adding that East Asia and the Pacific saw a loss of 10.3 per cent during this period.
Bush says war against terror far from over
Thursday April 18, 9:25 AM
LEXINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has warned that the war against terrorism is far from over, saying "cells of trained killers" will try to regroup in Afghanistan this spring and that "axis of evil" nations are cultivating ties to terrorist groups.
With the war on terrorism overshadowed in recent weeks by Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, Bush spoke to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday after a U.S. soldier was wounded in Afghanistan by a shot fired from a crowd in the southern city of Kandahar.
Bush said "good progress" has been made in destroying Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network but that as the spring thaw comes in Afghanistan, "we expect cells of trained killers to try to regroup" to try to disrupt efforts to build a lasting peace there.
Bush awoke to a headline in The Washington Post that said the United States had concluded bin Laden had escaped the Afghan battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was the gravest U.S. error in the war against al Qaeda.
At a news conference in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the report and said he never has had any conclusive evidence of the whereabouts of bin Laden, whom the United States holds responsible for the September 11 attacks that killed around 3,000 people in New York and Washington.
"We're tough, we're determined, we're relentless. We will stay until the mission is done," Bush said, without mentioning bin Laden by name.
Bush did mention the recent arrest of an al Qaeda leader, Abu Zabaydah. "He's under lock and key, and we're going to give him some company," the president said. "We're hunting down the killers one by one."
But Bush said it is not enough to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban, saying true peace in Afghanistan will only come when the battered nation has a stable government, a trained national army, and an education system for boys and girls alike.
In the past Bush, criticised the Clinton administration for so-called nation building. But since sending the military to overthrow Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, he has made clear he was committed to creating a stable and viable Afghanistan before U.S. forces leave.
INVOKES NAME OF GEORGE C. MARSHALL
He invoked the name of a famed VMI graduate, George C. Marshall, who was Army chief of staff during World War Two and went on to become secretary of state. He is the namesake of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild postwar Europe.
"The war against terror will be long, and as George Marshall so clearly understood, it will not be enough to make the world safer. We must also work to make the world better," he said.
Pointing out U.S. assistance to the governments of the Philippines, Georgia and Yemen, Bush again extended an invitation to any nation "that needs our help will have it" in the war on terrorism and that leaders around the world "must choose, they are with us, or they are with the terrorists."
He used the term "axis of evil" in referring to nations feared developing weapons of mass destruction. He coined the term in his Jan. 29 State of the Union to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea, but has not repeated the phrase often after it elicited a negative reaction from allies like France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
"A small number of outlaw regimes today possess and are developing chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. They're building missiles to deliver them, and at the same time cultivating ties to terrorist groups," Bush said.
"In their threat to peace, in their mad ambitions, in their destructive potential and in the repression of their own people, these regimes constitute an axis of evil and the world must confront them," he said.
Bush has said he is committed to a regime change in Iraq but the explosive situation in the Middle East is complicating attempts to build a regional coalition against Baghdad.
Bush pledged the United States would be deliberate and "we will work with our friends and allies" to confront emerging threats.
"We will fight against terrorist organizations in different ways, with different tactics, in different places," he said. "And we will fight the threat from weapons of mass destruction in different ways, with different tactics, in different places."
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