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PM receives Gilani at Mohali cricket stadium

Last updated on: March 30, 2011 14:30 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday received his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at the cricket stadium in Mohali where they will watch the Indo-Pak World Cup semi-final and hold bilateral talks.

Gilani was received outside the reception area of the Punjab Cricket Association stadium by Singh who was accompanied by ICC President Sharad Pawar, BCCI President Shashank Manohar and PCA chief I S Bindra.

Singh and Gilani exchanged a few words as they greeted each other. After the national anthems of the two countries were played with players in attendance, the two Prime Ministers were introduced to the competing teams.

The leaders shook hands with the Pakistani players first and then with the Indian side and then waved to the cheering spectators. Special cheers went up when the leaders shook hands with Sachin Tendulkar, who is at the threshold of another milestone 100th international century.

A number of dignitaries including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana Parkash Singh Badal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda were among those present at the special galleries. Actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao were also seen.

Earlier, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arrived at Chandigarh airport with a team of Pakistani dignitaries and was received by Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil and other officials.

Gilani on Wednesday expressed his happiness at the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan and said both he and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh were committed to work for peace and prosperity in the region.

"As far as our relations are concerned, I am happy that our talks have resumed. The talks between the Interior Secretaries were conducted in a positive manner. I appreciate that," Gilani said shortly before leaving for Mohali in India to watch the blockbuster India-Pakistan semi-final of the cricket World Cup.

The two-day meeting of the home secretaries of India and Pakistan ended in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Gilani, who is visiting India at Singh's invitation to watch the match, described his Indian counterpart as an experienced politician with a positive attitude.

It will be Gilani's first visit to India after becoming prime minister in March 2008.

"He (Singh) wants to work for peace and prosperity in this region. We are both committed to this and we want the environment to improve so that we can serve the people," he said.

"I have never seen him (Singh) being negative about this. I have always found him to be positive," Gilani told reporters at Chaklala military airbase in Rawalpindi before taking off for India.

Gilani said he expected his visit to lead to "some progress" between the two countries and "an improvement in relations".

Besides, the Pakistan team "will get a boost", he added. Asked if he would try to move from playing "a one-day series to a longer series" during his talks with Singh at Mohali, Gilani replied: "Naturally when we go (to India), the talks will be held according to the opportunity."

In response to another question on whether he would bowl a googly to Singh, Gilani said, "I am going to watch the cricket match. It's too early to expect (anything)."

Thanking Singh for inviting him to watch the match, Gilani said he was travelling to Mohali to show solidarity with the Pakistani and Indian teams and to promote cricket.

Singh will also host a dinner for Gilani after the match. "Keeping in mind the feelings of the two countries, I am going (to India). Both teams have qualified for the semi-final and I very hopeful that their performance will be very good," he said.

Gilani said he had also spoken to Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi and conveyed the country's good wishes to him. "I will tell the people of both countries to enjoy (the game) and appreciate their performance. I spoke to (Pakistani captain) Shahid Afridi on the phone and I conveyed the country's prayers to him. Our team's morale is very good," he added.

Responding to another question on whether he would asking Singh to send the Indian cricket team to Pakistan, Gilani said, "We are passing through some difficult times and we are fighting the war on terrorism. The whole country, leadership and people are united on creating a conducive environment in Pakistan. If we will create a better environment, certainly we will request him."

Gilani is travelling to India with a delegation comprising political party leaders, parliamentarians and federal ministers, including PML-Q chief and former premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan.

"The entire leadership and all political parties, including minorities and all regions and provinces, are represented in the delegation and the objective is to show that the whole country is united," he said.

Pakistan's Foreign Office said yesterday that Gilani and Singh are expected to discuss "all issues of mutual interest" on the sidelines of the cricket match.

"The two Prime Ministers are expected to have a conversation on all issues of mutual interest on the sidelines of the cricket match," Pakista foreign office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said.

Gilani's presence in Mohali "signifies the tremendous enthusiasm of the people of Pakistan for cricket" and "coincides with the resumption of the Pakistan-India dialogue process", Janjua said in a brief statement.

The two Prime Ministers will meet "at this important sports event and watch the match together", Janjua said.

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