Red carpet welcome for Manmohan Singh in Colombo (Lead)

August 1st, 2008 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, Aug 1 (IANS) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was awarded a red carpet welcome here when he arrived Friday afternoon to attend the 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that groups eight countries from the world’s most populous region. Manmohan Singh was received by his Sri Lankan counterpart Ratnasiri Wickramanayake at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake - the country’s only international airport - about 40 km from the capital Colombo.

Several other Sri Lanka cabinet ministers also accompanied the Sri Lankan prime minister in welcoming the Indian prime minister.

Manmohan Singh was accorded a guard of honour by the Sri Lankan Navy at the airport from where he flew to Colombo in an Indian Air Force helicopter.

Manmohan Singh will join leaders from Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Maldives besides host Sri Lanka during the two-day summit at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in the very heart of Colombo from Saturday.

India will hand over the chairmanship of SAARC to Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Also attending the SAARC summit will be Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives and Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, caretaker Prime Minister G.P. Koirala of Nepal, Bangladesh Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed and Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan.

Manmohan Singh is set to hold bilateral talks with Rajapaksa later Friday. The Indian leader will meet other Sri Lankan political leaders.

Leaders of the other member countries have also started arriving for the summit, being dominated by the India-Pakistan bilateral talks aimed at improving the fast deteriorating relationship between the two neighbouring countries in the recent past.

Special security measures are in place in and around Colombo, with not less than 19,000 additional troops being deployed in the city of 650,000 people, aiming to provide maximum security for the visiting leaders and the summit.

Armed police, elite Special Task Force and tri-service personnel are being deployed almost every 50 yards in the city. Some of the key roads are closed for the VVIP movements.

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