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January 5, 2002
1204 IST

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SAARC: Musharraf hands Vajpayee a pleasant surprise

Josy Joseph in Kathmandu

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharaf on Saturday took Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee by surprise by first offering a 'genuine and sincere hand of friendship' and then walking up to Vajpayee and extending his hand during the opening session of the SAARC summit.

After recovering from the surprise, Vajpayee got up and returned the gesture.

The audience at the Birendra International Conference hall clapped as Musharraf staged what Indian officials had never even dreamed of.

The handshake brought alive the otherwise dull opening session.

During his speech, Gen Musharraf insisted that there was a distinction between 'genuine freedom fighters' and terrorists even while he condemned terrorism in all its forms.

Musharraf said Pakistan was 'determined to eliminate' terrorism.

He said that he came to Kathmandu 'with the objective of dissipating tension' between India and Pakistan and that his government 'remains committed to dialogue with India'.

He wanted all problems facing the region to be addressed instead of 'sweeping them under the carpet' adding "Let none amongst us consider himself more equal than others."

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