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* Sri Lankan President begins visit to India amid protests
Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 08:16 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Feb 08, Bodh Gaya: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accompanied by First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and his two sons arrived in India this morning amid protests by the anti-Sri Lankan Tamil parties in India.

The President and his entourage visited Bodh Gaya in Bihar State of India and paid homage to the famous Buddhist shrine, Mahabodhi Temple.

Chief Minister of Bihar state, Nitish Kumar welcomed the President who is on a two-day personal visit to the country.

On the invitation of the incumbent of the Bodh Gaya temple Ven. Dr. Dodangoda Rewatha, President Rajapaksa unveiled a gold-plated fence constructed around the Bo Tree and laid the foundation stone for a cultural center to be established on the temple premises.

Buddhist monks, led by Ven. Dr. Rewatha and Rev. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, conducted religious observances to invoke blessings on the President.

Protesters have shouted slogans as President's motorcade entered the Mahabodhi temple, and the security forces have dispersed the crowd detaining two for questioning, PTI news agency reported.

The Bihar Chief Minister has hosted the President and the dignitaries for a lunch and has seen off the President who has left Bodhgaya for Tirupati in Andhra Pradesha at the airport.

When the media asked the President to comment on the protests, he has refused to talk politics at a religious place and invited the reporters to come over to Colombo.

Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, parliamentarian Sajin Vaas Gunawardena, and President's Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath also accompanied the President.

In Tamil Nadu, DMK leader M. Karunanidhi led a black flag protest in Chennai to denounce President's visit.

Pro-Eelam protesters shouting anti-Sri Lankan slogans burned effigies of the President and urged the Indian government to take action against the President.

Karunanidhi has accused the Sri Lankan President of trying to obliterate Tamils in the island nation but also their culture, tradition and the Tamil language itself.

The MDMK leader Vaiko meanwhile led a protest in New Delhi against Rajapaksa's visit demanding Sri Lanka grants autonomy for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa in his Independence Day address to the nation ruled out a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka saying that all communities in the country must accept a united Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government meanwhile has asked the Indian government to provide enhanced security to the several Sri Lankan establishments in Tamil Nadu which include the bank, a Buddhist Temple and the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines as well as the Sri Lankans living in India after a pro-LTTE mob attacked the Bank of Ceylon branch in Chennai.

Following a similar attack by the pro-LTTE mob on Sri Lankan pilgrims to a Catholic shrine in Tamil Nadu last September, Sri Lanka issued a travel warning against visiting the state.

Following the travel advisory, the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TNCCI) in Madurai urged the Indian government to check the attack on visiting Sri Lankan pilgrims since the travel advisory issued by Sri Lanka will seriously affect the tourism and trade to the state.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)



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