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Tunisian Islamist leader returns home
Tunis, Jan 30 (Agencies):
Published on 30 Jan. 2011 11:44 PM IST
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The leader of Tunisia's main Islamist movement has returned home after 22 years in exile following the ousting of President Ben Ali earlier this month.
More than 1,000 people were at the main airport in Tunis to welcome Rachid Ghannounchi as he arrived from London.
Mr Ghannouchi, 69, says his Ennahda party intends to work for the popular uprising that toppled Mr Ben Ali. Observers say his return is the most potent symbol yet of the change that has swept the country since then.
His return follows the interim government's announcement that media curbs would be lifted, banned political parties allowed to register and political prisoners amnestied.
Alongside his supporters was a small group of secularists with banners reading: "No Islamism, no theocracy, no Sharia and no stupidity!", Reuters news agency said.
"I feel very happy today," he said. "I am still the leader of my party. I want to organize a conference."
"If there are free and fair elections Ennahda will take part -- in the legislative elections, not the presidential elections," Ghannouchi added.
"There is still confusion regarding the political situation," he went on to say. "The interim government is changing its ministers every day, it's not stable yet and its powers are not clear yet."
"It's not clear who it is accountable to because the current parliament is still the one-party parliament," he concluded.
His return comes after Tunisia's interim government issued an amnesty for all the country's banned political activists. The amnesty is yet to be approved by the parliament.
Ghannouchi, who left Tunisia shortly after Ben Ali came to power in a 1987 coup, is not expecting to return "triumphantly" and wants to return simply as "a free man," AFP quoted his spokesmen as saying.
The 69-year-old leader earlier said that he plans to let younger people take over his once outlawed Ennahda (Awakening) movement.
Meanwhile, the new government installed after Ben Ali's fall has unveiled unprecedented democratic freedoms, including lifting media restrictions, releasing political prisoners and registering banned parties.
Ghannouchi also emphasized that he does not plan to run for president, but he wants to turn his movement into a political party that will take part in the country's first democratic elections.
Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after days of street protests put an end to his 23-year rule.

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