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14th SAARC summit begins; PM stresses on closer ties
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April 03, 2007 11:48 IST

The 14th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation opened in New Delhi on Tuesday with Afghanistan formally inducted as the 8th member of the regional grouping.

In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed that South Asia was in the midst of an 'unprecedented' economic and political transformation and governments of the region were working together to address the issues.

"The political transformation is painful. Each one of us has to work out for ourselves and within our countries and between our governments," the prime minister said.

Besides announcing unilateral liberalisation of visa policy for students, teachers, researchers, journalists and patients, Dr Singh also informed delegates about duty-free access to Indian markets to South Asian neighbours without insisting on reciprocity.

He said India was ready to further reduce the list of sensitive items for trade.

Turning to terrorism afflicting the region, the prime minister said, "We should implement in a meaningful and sincere manner the commitment and pledge made to root out terrorism to create an atmosphere for our endeavour to succeed."

"South Asia is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political transformation," he said, adding that the process could be painful for many.

"We see signs of hope. Governments of the region are addressing bilateral political issues. We should break with the past and join hands to overcome the challenges," Dr Singh said, adding that the time had come for SAARC to work together to realise the vision of prosperity, cooperation, peace and development.

Dr Singh welcomed Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and said India was proud that Afghanistan was attending its first SAARC Summit as a full member when the event was being hosted by India.

While expressing deep appreciation of the 'excellent leadership' provided by Bangladesh which was heading the SAARC during the past year, the prime minister welcomed representatives of the governments of China, Japan, Republic of Korea, the United States and European Union, who are participating in the Summit as observers.  

Earlier, SAARC leaders flagged off a car rally from the summit venue at Vigyan Bhawan. The rally, which has already covered India, Pakistan and Nepal, will now carry on to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
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