Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived here yesterday 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 today 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 100km from the Bihar capital Patna, under tight security, a police officer said. 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. Several Tamil activists from Tamil Nadu entered Tirupati in a bid to stall Rajapaksa’s visit.
Police arrested over 100 protesters. Police sources said hundreds of protesters may have sneaked into Tirupati, about 50km from the Tamil Nadu border and 135km from Chennai. Prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or more people were imposed in the Andhra Pradesh town. A large number of security personnel have been deployed along the route from the airport to Tirumala.
The president will take part in the ‘Suprabhatha Seva’ at 3 am at the Balaji temple.
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.