India hosts Sarkozy amid tight security
NEW DELHI |
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India hosted French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Republic Day on Saturday with a parade showcasing its military might amid tight security across the country, especially in the restive northeast and Kashmir.
Around 20,000 troops and police, including snipers on high-rise buildings, guarded India's capital and checked cars coming into the city. Sandbagged posts dotted the city centre.
Every year, rebels call for the boycott of India's Republic Day and often carry out attacks on security forces and government buildings to protest India's founding as a republic, but few incidents were reported this year in the run-up to the parade.
In Kashmir, people stayed indoors and businesses were closed in Srinagar, the state's main city, after separatists called a strike to mark what they say is a "black day.".
"Indian forces have let loose a reign of terror across Kashmir," Kashmir's separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat (freedom) Conference, said in a statement.
Separatist violence has declined in Kashmir since India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule it in parts, launched a peace process in 2004. But people are still killed almost daily in fighting between militants and soldiers.
Separatist rebel groups in India's restive northeast also called for a 24-hour strike across the region in protest against what they say is "forceful occupation of our land by New Delhi".
Soldiers killed two separatist guerrillas in the region's oil- and tea-rich Assam state on Friday night.
A separatist revolt in Kashmir against Indian rule has killed more than 40,000 people since it began in 1989, officials say. Rights groups say there are around 60,000 dead or missing.
Police said on Friday they shot dead a top militant accused of masterminding a series of explosions outside courts in three Indian cities that killed at least 13 people last year.
In the central state of Chhattisgarh, which is the epicentre of a Maoist insurgency in India, thousands of extra police were deployed in the worst-hit Bastar region after a large arms cache was discovered earlier in the week.
Sarkozy is visiting India to cement business and political ties between the two countries, including possible lucrative nuclear power and arms deals.
He joined Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and thousands of spectators at a military procession to watch elephants and camels join tanks, missiles and replicas of its warships.
India's media was at first more interested in the possible visit -- later cancelled -- of Carla Bruni, a singer and former model who was reported to be near to marrying Sarkozy. Indian newspapers had been full of stories of how a visit by his girlfriend could upset protocol in the deeply conservative country.
(Additional reporting Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar, Biswajyoti Das in Guwahati and Sujeet Kumar in Raipur; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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