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Prince Charles meets president, PM in Pak

The five-day trip has been billed by British and Pakistan officials as a bid to boost bilateral cultural, economic and education relations.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 14:05 IST

Britain's Prince Charles met Pakistan's president and prime minister on Monday as the heir to the British throne kicked off his first visit to this South Asian country.

The five-day trip has been billed by British and Pakistan officials as a bid to boost bilateral cultural, economic and education relations as well as promote Charles' efforts to strengthen interfaith dialogue.

But the royal visit, which started with Charles' arrival in the capital, Islamabad, late on Sunday, is also expected to focus on efforts backed by the Prince of Wales to seek clemency for a British man of Pakistani origin who is on death row in a Pakistani prison.

Accompanied by his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Charles first visited Gen Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, on Monday before traveling to the residence of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Charles and Camilla shook hands with Aziz, who led them into a meeting with Pakistani Cabinet officials.

Neither Charles nor Aziz spoke with reporters, but officials for both said the men held positive talks aimed at furthering British-Pakistani ties.

"It is an important visit, which is less political and more cultural," Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani told reporters.

"This will increase contacts between the two countries."

British officials have been tightlipped on whether the Prince of Wales plans to discuss with Pakistani leaders efforts to free Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British national on death row in Pakistan for murdering a Pakistani taxi driver.

Hussain, 36, was convicted of murdering Jamshed Khan in 1988 and has been in custody ever since.

Hussain was scheduled to be executed on November 1 in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad, but Musharraf has delayed the execution until the end of the year.

Sunday's English-language daily, The Nation, quoted unidentified diplomatic sources as saying Prince Charles would seek clemency for Hussain during his meeting with Musharraf.

Dawn, another English-language daily, said the prince would discuss Hussain's case with Pakistani officials.

Dawn also said the prince will travel to the eastern city of Lahore for a conference on interfaith harmony, and to the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, to address a prestigious college.

British High Commission spokesman Aidan Liddle said Prince Charles' visit to Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation of more than 150 million people, was aimed at improving relations between religious faiths and inspecting relief efforts in areas struck by last year's massive earthquake that killed more than 80,000 and left more than 3 million homeless.

Pakistan, a key US ally in its war on terror, witnessed violent protests following this year's publication of cartoons by European newspapers lampooning Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Muslims denounced the drawings as offensive to their religion.

First Published: Oct 30, 2006 14:05 IST