Exiled head of Tunisian Islamist party says to return

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The exiled head of the main Tunisian Islamist party told AFP on Saturday he planned to return to his homeland following the overthrow of former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"The Tunisian intifada has succeeded in collapsing the dictatorship," Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the banned Ennahdha, told AFP by telephone from London.

"Now is it for the political parties to try to replace a dictator's regime with a democratic one. I'm preparing myself. I'm preparing my return," the 69-year-old activist declared.

He said he had been in contact with other opposition leaders and would be prepared to join a government of national unity, but added that this would be difficult, as years of persecution had left his allies disorganised.

"It's possible but not easy," he said. "Under dictatorship everything is destroyed. It takes time to reorganise political society and civil society. There is a sort of fragmentation. It takes time to agree on common ground."

Ben Ali's former Western allies, principally France, had supported his rule -- despite human rights concerns -- as a bulwark against the threat of violent Islamism in the North African region.

But Ghannouchi insisted that his party was a democratic Islamist movement, similar in style to Turkey's ruling AKP, and would not pose a threat of militancy if allowed to take part in electoral politics.

He did not say when he would return, except that it would be "soon."

© 2011 AFP

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