PM gets resounding welcome in Bhutan, promises speedy dev

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Thimphu, May 16 (UNI) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today promised Bhutan that India would do everything possible to strengthen their close relationship and accelerate the development of the Himalayan kingdom as he arrived here to a resounding welcome on a two-day visit aimed at taking bilateral ties to a new high.

"I come with the message that India stands ready to join hands with the people and the government of Bhutan to further strengthen our relationship and do our bit for the accelerated development of Bhutan," Dr Singh told reporters on his arrival at the Paro International Airport, 54 km from the capital.

"And we look forward to a 21st century with our two countries walking hand in hand, furthering the cause of friendship and cooperation," he said.

Asked about his feelings about India, the world's largest democracy, meeting Bhutan, the world's youngest democracy, Dr Singh said, "This is a very exciting event," referring to the elections in March in which the people of Bhutan voted for the first time to elect a Parliament.

"Bhutan has just witnessed elections--a marvellous development, a peaceful transition to a democratic monarchy. As a democracy, we cherish this moment and we will use the visit to further strengthen in every possible way the close bonds of friendship which unites our two countries and our two peoples," he said.

The Prime Minister said that the India-Bhutan relationship was unique, with centuries of ties of culture, religion and geography.

He also noted that an Indian Prime Minister was visiting the kingdom after 15 years. The last visit was by Mr Narasimha Rao in 1993.

"This is a very auspicious year, as this is the centenary year of the Wangchuk dynasty, this is the year of the coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, and this is the year which has seen the ushering in of a democratically elected government. So my visit assumes special significance," he said.

Dr Singh and Mrs Gursharan Kaur were received at the Paro airport by Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigme Y Thinley and his wife, Mrs Aum Rinsy Dem Thinley and presented with "khadars".

After a brief welcome ceremony at the airport, Dr Singh and his delegation left by road for Thimphu, where he will hold talks with the Bhutanese leaders over the next two days.

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