Source AP ©

Afghanistan's last king to be buried in Kabul

Afghanistan's last king was to be buried in a hilltop shrine in Kabul on Tuesday next to his late wife and other members of the royal family in a ceremony attended by foreign and Afghan dignitaries.

Mohammad Zahir Shah died Monday at age 92, ending the last vestige of Afghanistan's monarchy. His death triggered three days of national mourning for a man still feted as the "Father of the Nation" since his return from exile after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

Police increased their presence around Maranjan Hill, where local and foreign dignitaries were expected to pay their last respects to a man who oversaw four decades of relative peace before a 1973 palace coup ousted him and war shattered his country.

Kabul's police chief said police were stationed at various high points that could be used by militants to fire rockets at the hilltop funeral site.

"The smallest alleyways are stationed with soldiers, and we've put an additional 25 soldiers at Kabul's four (highway) gates," said Ismatullah Dauladzai.

The king's body will be taken from his residence on the presidential palace grounds to one of Kabul's main mosques for a prayer ceremony. Then the body will be taken to the hilltop shrine for burial.

Though he was not always effective during his 40-year reign, Zahir Shah is remembered warmly by his conflict-weary countrymen for steering the country without bloodshed.

The Foreign Ministry said it expected dignitaries from Britain, Canada, Pakistan, India, Japan, Italy and Tajikistan to attend the funeral.

President Hamid Karzai called him a "symbol of national unity" who brought development and education to the country. The king remained a leader in his final years, but one who didn't seek the power of a throne, he said.

Born Oct. 15, 1914, Zahir Shah was proclaimed monarch in 1933 at age 19 within hours of the death of his father, King Muhammad Nadir Shah, who was assassinated before his eyes.

His neutral foreign policy and limited liberalization of a deeply conservative society managed to keep the peace _ a golden age in the eyes of many Afghans pained by the extremism and slaughter that followed.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush called Zahir Shah "a monumental figure in Afghan history" who "supported the goal of a representative and freely elected government in his homeland."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II called the king's passing a "great loss," while Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Afghanistan lost a "statesman of great stature."

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