Protests in India as Rajapaksa prays for peace

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived here on Friday after praying at Buddhism`s holiest shrine at Bodh Gaya amid protests against his two-day Indian pilgrimage.

Tirupati: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived here on Friday after praying at Buddhism`s holiest shrine at Bodh Gaya amid protests against his two-day Indian pilgrimage.

The President`s brief trip - he flies back Saturday after spending a night in Tirupati - triggered protests in Tamil Nadu as well as in Tirupati, New Delhi and Hosur in Karnataka over allegations that he was denying Tamils in his country equal rights.

Rajapaksa and his delegation spent about an hour at the 1,500-year-old Mahabodhi temple, about 100 km from the Bihar capital Patna, under tight security, a police officer told a news agency.

Security personnel did not let journalists talk to the president, who is avoiding New Delhi despite Sri Lankan concerns over how India will vote on a US-sponsored resolution against Colombo at the UNHRC meet in Geneva.

According to a police official, over a dozen workers of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist protested near the temple minutes before his visit. They were detained.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar earlier received the president at the Gaya international airport where Rajapaksa flew in from Colombo along with his wife and senior aides.

From Bodh Gaya, Rajapaksa flew to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh to pray at the revered Balaji temple.

Along with his family members, Rajapaksa arrived at Renigunta airport here by a special aircraft and drove by road to the revered temple atop Tirumala Hills amid tight security, officials said.

Senior officials of the district administration and Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) accorded him a warm welcome.

Rajapaksa will be staying the night at TTD`s Sri Padmavathi Guest House and worship Lord Venkateswara early Saturday. He will take part in the `Suprabhatha Seva` at 3 a.m. Saturday, and fly out to Colombo later in the morning.

Despite the massive security arrangements and prohibitory orders, protestors managed to reach close to the road route before the Sri Lankan president`s convoy passed and raised slogans `Rajapaksa go back`.

Police arrested over 100 protesters. Police sources said hundreds of protesters may have sneaked into Tirupati, about 50 km from the Tamil Nadu border and 135 km from Chennai.

In New Delhi, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, a strong supporter of the now vanquished Tamil Tigers, led a noisy protest.

Holding placards demanding "Strict Action Against Rajapaksa" and shouting slogans against him, Vaiko and his supporters gathered on Parliament Street in the heart of Delhi.

They denounced Rajapaksa for ruling out autonomy for Tamil areas. About 130 people were detained and let off after three hours.

In Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa blamed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the watered down US resolution pulling up Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council meet last year.

The Chief Minister urged the Indian government to table a resolution on violation of human rights in Sri Lanka at the UN.

Also in Chennai, DMK president M Karunanidhi accused Rajapaksa of not only trying to obliterate Tamils in the island but also their culture, tradition and the Tamil language itself.

Leading a massive protest held by Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO), he said Colombo was changing even the names of villages with Tamil names to Sinhalese.

Thousands of cadres belonging to DMK, VCK and other Tamil outfits took part in the protest wearing black shirts.

Tamil groups also protested outside the Sri Lankan consulate in Chennai. On Thursday, a group of people stoned the Bank of Ceylon office in the city injuring two employees.

Around 30 members of VCK party were taken into custody near the Tamil Nadu-Andhra border for holding protests.

Tamil activists were taken into custody in Hosur in Karnataka for protesting on railway tracks.

Lawyers in some districts like Villupuram, Dindugul and Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu boycotted the courts opposing Rajapaksa`s visit and burnt his effigies.

The Sri Lankan president has been quoted as saying that he is opposed to granting autonomy to provinces, remarks that are widely seen as going back on promises made earlier to Indian leaders.