Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa begins Bihar visit amid protests

Bodh Gaya/Chennai, Feb 8 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew into Bodh Gaya Friday to pray at Buddhism's holiest shrine as protests erupted in parts of India against his two-day India pilgrimage.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar received the president at the Gaya international airport, about 100 km from the state capital Patna. With him is a delegation of senior Sri Lankan officials.

Indian authorities said Rajapaksa immediately left for the 1,500-year-old Mahabodhi temple, which is located the site where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.

Security was tight in and around Bodh Gaya following the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist's threat to protest against Rajapaksa.

This is a "personal" visit by Rajapaksa, who will travel from Bodh Gaya to the revered Balaji temple at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh to take part in the 'Suprabhatha Seva' at 3 a.m. Saturday.

The president will fly home some six hours later.

Rajapaksa is skipping New Delhi despite Sri Lankan concerns over how India will vote in the upcoming UN human rights meet in Geneva.

Last year, India voted for a US-sponsored resolution urging Sri Lanka to go for reconciliation and speedily rehabilitate those derailed by the long running ethnic conflict that ended in May 2009.

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.

Even as he took off from Colombo, Tamil political parties in India took to the streets in Tamil Nadu, New Delhi and Tirupati to denounce the visit by Rajapaksa.

In New Delhi, MDMK general secretary Vaiko led a protest in the national capital.

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

They denounce Rajapaksa for ruling out autonomy for Tamil areas.

In Chennai, DMK president 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 that of 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.

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.

A large number of Tamil activists from Tamil Nadu entered the temple town of Tirupati in Andhra in a bid to to stall Rajapaksa's visit.

Police arrested over 100 protesters. Police sources said hundreds of protestors may have sneaked into Tirupati.

Prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or more people were imposed in the town. A large number of security personnel have been deployed along the route from the airport to Tirumala.

Some activists were arrested when they arrived at the Tirupati railway station Friday morning. They raised slogans against the visit.

Tirupati in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh is 50 km from Tamil Nadu border. The temple town is 135 km from Chennai.     

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