Tirana -

Thousands of Albanians turned out Saturday to pay their respects to the late self-proclaimed king Zog I, whose remains are to be reburied with state honours after they were returned from France where he died in exile in 1961.

“King Zog is an illustrious figure who laid the foundations of the Albanian state and contributed to the European calling of Albanian society,” Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said after passing by the coffin Ä draped with the Albanian flag Ä lying in state in the former royal palace.

The king, whose remains were returned to Albania on Friday, is to be buried in a newly built mausoleum for the royal family in an official ceremony later Saturday.

Zog ruled Albania from 1925 to 1939. He started out as president but in 1928 proclaimed a constitutional monarchy and was crowned king of the Albanians.

He fled in 1939 after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Albania with an eye on the country's strategic Adriatic ports.

Zog died in exile in France aged 66 and was buried in the Thiais cemetery.

His son Leka and other members of the royal family returned to Albania in 2002.

The repatriation and reburial was organised by Albania's conservative government as part of ceremonies to celebrate Albania's 100 years of independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Albania is currently a republic with a parliamentary democracy, and crown prince Leka's grandson is a political advisor to Albania's President Bujar Nishani. - Sapa-AFP