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All eyes on Nepal president's maiden India visit

world Updated: Feb 15, 2010 12:36 IST
Kathmandu

With major changes sweeping through Nepal, all eyes in Kathmandu are on the maiden visit by Nepal's first President Ram Baran Yadav to India from Monday, an event that will further cement ties between the government of India and Nepal's second-largest party, the Nepali Congress (NC).

Nepal's coalition government on Monday ended the old tradition of declaring public holidays on the days the head of the state left the country for official visits abroad as well as the day he returned home.

Yadav, a commoner's son who replaced Nepal's king Gyanendra as the head of state after an anti-monarchy movement that axed the crown, is the first president of the new republic of Nepal and his decision to make India his first port of call abroad comes as a boost for the Indian government that is the current target of new protests by Nepal's former Maoist guerrillas.

The 64-year-old Yadav, a former medical practitioner and member of parliament from the NC, was catapulted into a protracted controversy after he crossed swords with the Maoists following his election as Nepal's first president in 2008.

In 2009, when the Maoist-led government tried to sack the chief of the army, Yadav reinstated the general, thereby causing the resignation of Maoist chief and prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. It also triggered continuous protests against the new government by the former guerrillas, which now target India as well.

While Prachanda chose to visit China first after becoming prime minister, Yadav declined an invitation by Beijing to attend the Olympic Games hosted by the communist republic in 2008 and instead accepted Indian President Pratibha Patil's invitation to visit New Delhi.

The India visit was delayed first by political turmoil in Nepal and then the suspension of Vice President Paramananda Jha for taking his oath of office in Hindi.

During the four-day visit, the president, an alumnus of Calcutta Medical College, will meet the Indian president, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Indian ministers and leaders of opposition parties.

Before the 27-member presidential delegation left for New Delhi on a routine Nepal Airlines flight, Yadav held talks with the prime minister.

On Sunday evening, Prachanda also called on the president to discuss the India visit.

The foreign ministry said four agreements, the foundations of which were laid during earlier visits by prime ministerial delegations, are expected to be signed during Yadav's state visit.

They are extending railway services between Nepal and India to five border transit points, an updated air services agreement that will increase India-Nepal flight capabilities five-fold, the construction of a polytechnic in Hetauda town in central Nepal and a convention hall in Birhunj town in southern Nepal on the India-Nepal border.

The president will also visit Haridwar to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious meet held every 12 years.