India, US united against terror: Obama
Mumbai: US President Barack Obama arrived in India’s commercial capital Saturday to begin his first extended foreign trip of the year, focused largely on how to revive his own sputtering domestic economy.
Obama touched down just before 1 p.m. local time in a country whose leaders and people have high hopes for his visit. His three-day stay follows months of perceived drift in a relationship that administration officials say is central to Obama’s ambitions in Asia.
The Air Force One carrying Obama and his wife Michelle touched down at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport here at 12:50 p.m.
Obama and his wife walked down the ladder to a red carpet welcome and were received by Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan who presented him a memento.
The other dignitaries who received him on the tarmac were Union Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed, who will be the minister-in-waiting, Indian Ambassador in the US Meera Shankar and the US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer.
Much of the city has been cordoned off for security reasons, and Indian authorities have even imposed restrictions on the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, including a ban on firecrackers in areas where the president will be.
Although the primary focus of his visit here is improving economic relations, Obama’s first stop represented a show of solidarity with the Indian people.
He made his way first by helicopter, then motorcade to the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, a focal point of the November 2008 terrorist attacks. Gunmen killed more than 170 people, including Americans, over a days-long siege.
Obama placed a white rose on a memorial to victims and signed the hotel guest book before telling the roughly 50 people gathered — family members of those killed, survivors and hotel employees present at the Nov. 26 attacks — what “an extraordinary honor it is to be here in India.”
“To those who ask if this is designed to send a message, my answer is simply: Absolutely,” Obama said of his first stop. “In our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity, the United States and India stand united.”
According to Agence India Press correspondent, Obama did not mention the role of Pakistan, an essential if unpredictable U.S. ally in the Afghanistan war. Indian authorities have accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of training the gunmen, an allegation that Pakistan’s government has denied.
Barack Obama paid his respects to the 26/11 martyrs at the Taj Mahal Hotel and said that India and US stand united in the fight against terror.
A visibly sombre Obama, then addressed a small gathering by the Taj with the Gateway of India in the backdrop, he said, “There’s a reason for us beginning our visit in this historic city. Mumbai is a symbol of the energy and optimism that defines India. And ever since those horrific days two years ago Taj has been the symbol of strength and resilience of the people of India.”
Obama poignantly added, “Yes, we are here to give a clear message that India and US stand united, adding, “We will never forget awful images of the 26/11 attacks, the flames from Taj Hotel that lit up the skies on those four days of November, 2008.”
Calling the terrorists “murderers”, he said they sneaked into Mumbai to kill “innocent civilians, Obama said he “will never forget the awful image of 26/11”.
He said the Indian and US governments were working more closely than ever to keep people safe by sharing intelligence.
He said he looked forward to deepening counter-terror cooperation “when I meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi”.
Obama concluded on an emotional note by quoting India’s first prime minister Jawharlal Lal Nehru’s words on the death of Mahatma Gandhi: “We will never allow the torch of freedom to be blown out however high the wind or stormy the tempest.”
He is now at the Gandhi Museum (Mani Bhavan) and would later in the evening address the captains of industry at the Oberoi Trident Hotel.
Obama described Mahatma Gandhi as “a hero not just to India but to the world.”
“I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to view this testament to Gandhi’s life. He is a hero not just to India but to the world,” Obama wrote in the visitor’s book at the Mani Bhavan in Mumbai.
First lady Michelle Obama wrote in the visitor’s book, “The visit will be one that I will always treasure. Life and teachings of Gandhi must be shared with our children around the world.”
On his own book, Dream from My Father, stocked at the Mani Bhavan library, Barack Obama wrote, “I continue to find inspiration from Gandhi’s teaching.” Obama visited the Gandhi Museum at Mani Bhavan to honour the Father of the Nation. Gandhi, the US President said, has inspired Americans and African Americans, including Martin Luther King.
Obama will begin his third and final day with a visit to Rajghat and then proceed to a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister. The two leaders will then address a joint press conference. Obama will also be addressing the India-US CEO’s forum before he heads to Parliament to address both houses.
Obama’s next stop will be Rashtrapati Bhawan where he will be accorded a ceremonial welcome and meet President Pratibha Patil.
The meeting will be followed by a Presidential Banquet.
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