Politics | June 18, 2001, Monday // 00:00

Monday, 18 June, 2001, 04:33 GMT 05:33 UK

Simeon: Became king at the age of six

Bulgaria's ex-king Simeon II, ousted by communists in 1946, has returned to power as the first eastern European monarch to do so since the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

The former monarch has promised to revive his impoverished country's fortunes

Born into the royal house of Saxe-Coburg and related to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, the 63-year-old bearded ex-monarch has promised to revive his impoverished country's fortunes.

Other former monarchs from Eastern Europe have returned to their homelands since the collapse of communism 11 years ago, but Simeon is the first to regain political power.

Simeon became king at the age of six during World War II, in which Bulgaria supported Nazi Germany.

Rich relatives

At the end of the war, Soviet troops invaded Bulgaria, a communist government was formed, and a referendum - which many claim was rigged - abolished the monarchy.

I am resolute, as never before, to fulfill my historical duty to Bulgaria

Simeon II
Simeon fled, first to Egypt and then to Spain. With the financial backing of his rich royal relatives, he studied economics and established himself as a businessman in Madrid.

He has worked as an adviser for firms in Europe and Africa in the fields of banking, hotels, electrical goods and catering - useful ammunition against charges that his coalition would be economically incompetent.

Simeon has been able to play on his credentials as never forgetting his roots

He married a Spanish aristocrat, and, keen to hold onto his heritage, gave his five children Bulgarian names.

He speaks several languages, including Bulgarian peppered with out-of-date vocabulary kept during his long exile.

His own name was taboo in communist Bulgaria, but not forgotten.

On his return to his homeland for the first time in 1996, when the country was in the throes of an economic crisis, thousands turned out to welcome him, chanting: "We want our King!".

'Cry for help`

Simeon has been able to play on his credentials as both the Bulgarian who never abandoned his roots and an outsider untainted by the country's politics of the last 50 years.

He has stressed how he closely watched Bulgaria from afar.

`During this period there was nothing more hurtful, for me, than the cry for help of hundreds of my countrymen who had been living on the border of human existence.`

`I did what I could, to the extent to which I was allowed,` he said recently.

`I am resolute, as never before, to fulfill my historical duty to Bulgaria.`

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