Syrian President arrives on crucial visit

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New Delhi, Jun 17 (UNI) Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived here this evening on a three-day State visit during which he will hold talks with Indian leaders on several important issues including West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), energy and other bilateral, regional and international matters.

He was received at the airport by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed.

This is the first visit by a Syrian President to India during the past 30 years, although both countries have exchanged visits at several levels in the past.

The Syrian President who arrived at 1730 hrs, will begin his formal engagements tomorrow with a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He will later visit Rajghat and place a wreath at the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will call on him which will be followed by formal discussins with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at 1115 hrs and delegation level talks.

The two countries are expected to sign five agreements after the talks.

At 1300 hrs, representatives of Indian industry, CII/FICCI/ASSOCHAM, will host a lunch in his honour.

Leader of Opposition L K Advani will call on him in the afternoon which will be followed by a call on by Vice President Hamid Ansari.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi will also call on him.

Mr Bashar al Assad will call on President Pratibha Patil in the evening. The President will host a banquet in his honour.

He will also visit Bangalore before leaving for Damascus on June 21.

The Syrian President, who will be in India till June 21, is accompanied by a high-powered delegation including Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, Minister for Trade and Economy Amer Husni Lutfi and Minister for Telecommunication and Technology Emad Sabouni.

The two countries will sign an Agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and a Work Plan under Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture and Allied Sectors for 2008-2009, the External Affairs Ministry said.

The Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement aims at avoiding and reducing the burden of double taxation on the same tax payer in the two countries.

The Agreements are also expected to stimulate the flow of investment, technology and services from India to Syria and vice-versa, while providing tax stability to the residents of both the nations.

Dr Bashar al-Assad will visit the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in the capital.

He will also travel to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and later leave for Bangalore where he will visit the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and information technology and bio-technology establishments.

Karnataka Governor Rameshwar Thakur will host a dinner in his honour.

Officials said the Syrian President will hold talks with Indian leaders on bilateral relations and issues of common interest.

Cooperation in energy sector and West Asia crisis is likely to dominate the discussions.

UNI RB ARB RK1916

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