Exiled Islamist leader plans return Sunday to Tunisia

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The leader of Tunisia's Islamist movement Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, will return home from London Sunday after more than 20 years in exile, but will not re-enter politics, his spokesman said.

"He will be leaving London in the morning. He will be in Tunis in the afternoon," the spokesman for Ghannouchi's London office told AFP Thursday.

Asked what kind of reception Ghannouchi expected, given that he was sentenced in his absence in 1992 for alleged plots against the Tunisian state, the spokesman added: "He has received no guarantee.

"But the dictator has left and he expects to come back as a free man in his country."

Ghannouchi's return follows a popular uprising in Tunisia that caused president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

"He has made very, very clear that he is not a candidate for any election and that he is not standing for any political position," the spokesman added.

Earlier, a spokesman for Ennahdha in Paris told AFP: "He will not return triumphantly, claiming a place in the government, but as a simple citizen."

Ghannouchi said earlier this week he planned to let a younger person take over the party leadership in the wake of the turmoil in Tunisia.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, no relation to the Ennahdha leader, has promised the end of bans on political groups like the Communists and Islamists, among a host of unprecedented new freedoms.

But he said Rached Ghannouchi would only be able to return once a planned amnesty law is passed.

Founded in 1981 by intellectuals inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood born in Egypt, Ennahdha was at first tolerated in Tunisia, including in the initial years after Ben Ali took power in 1987. But it was banned in 1992.

© 2011 AFP

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