Rajapaksa set to visit Bodh Gaya and Tirupati for pilgrimage

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 08, 2013 04:04 hrs

New Delhi: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrives on Friday in India for pilgrimage and he will not visit New Delhi to meet the country's leaders, official sources said.

Rajapaksa's trip to Bodh Gaya in Bihar and Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh comes amid barely concealed strains in India-Sri Lanka ties over Colombo's refusal to devolve powers to provincial councils.

The president will fly from Colombo on Friday to Bodh Gaya, the site where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and which hosts a 1,500-year-old temple -- the most sacred to Buddhists worldwide.

While in Bihar, Rajapaksa is expected to meet Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He is also set to inaugurate a cultural centre in Bodh Gaya.

According to Indian officials, Rajapaksa will then proceed to the Tirupati temple, before returning to Sri Lanka on Saturday or Sunday.

Termed a "personal visit", the president is avoiding 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.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government to put pressure on Sri Lanka to embrace a path of reconciliation with the Tamil community following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

Rights activists and political parties in Tamil Nadu want India to vote against Sri Lanka in Geneva. Human Rights Watch has also demanded that the November Commonwealth summit should be taken away from Sri Lanka.

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