Sonia to go with family for Beijing Olympic opening (Lead)

August 3rd, 2008 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Pranay Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 3 (IANS) Congress president Sonia Gandhi may finally go for the Aug 8 opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, but it will be Sports Minister M.S. Gill who will be rubbing shoulders with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders like US President George Bush. Diplomatic sources told the IANS Sunday that Sonia Gandhi and her family, as guests of the Chinese government, will sit in an important enclosure for the opening ceremony along with other celebrities.

But the VVIP enclosure that will have President Hu, Bush, other heads of governments and world leaders will be away from the one where she will be seated.

Sports Minister M.S. Gill, who is likely to head the Indian government delegation, will have the privilege of getting a seat in this enclosure.

In fact it was this protocol problem that created a puzzle that the Chinese found hard to resolve.

Gill ranks far below Sonia Gandhi in the Indian political pecking order. She is the president of the Congress and also the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

But Sonia Gandhi holds no government post and had to be seated in an enclosure with other guests of the Chinese government.

Sonia Gandhi’s office informed the Chinese embassy Saturday night that she had decided to go for the opening ceremony with her family.

And the embassy was also informed that she has no problems about the seating arrangements.

She will leave on Aug 7 with daughter Priyanka, her husband Robert Vadra and their two children for the Chinese capital. Most of the dignitaries and celebrities from others parts of the world are also expected to arrive then.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is a parliamentarian and general secretary of the Congress party, might also go. His visa has been done, but he is currently visiting Bangladesh. Therefore, it is not clear whether he will go with the rest of the family or take a flight to Beijing from Dhaka.

The other problem that China faced was in finding a suitable accommodation for Sonia Gandhi and her delegation. The best hotels and clubs in Beijing had been booked by various countries months in advance to house their respective leaders and delegations for the Olympic Games.

The Chinese government had booked over a dozen rooms for Sonia Gandhi and others accompanying her - her family, other senior members of the Indian delegation and her personal staff - in one of the better hotels in the capital city.

Sonia Gandhi will have a large posse of security personnel with her when she comes to Beijing. Finding accommodation for members of her security team from the elite Special Protection Group (SPG) had added to the worries of the Chinese government.

However, now that she has decided to go, it no longer seems to be a big problem.

“Now that her trip is confirmed the Chinese authorities will make sure there are enough rooms for everybody,” the sources said.

Sonia Gandhi had visited Beijing along with Rahul as guests of the government in October last year. Her visit was followed by that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January.

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