Clinton arrives in India to start six-day South Asian trip

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The Independent Online

President Bill Clinton arrived in India on Sunday on a tour of three South Asian nations, hoping to improve Indo-American relations, boost trade with Bangladesh and nudge Pakistan's military administration into restoring democracy.

Clinton's Boeing 747 jetliner, Air Force One, landed at 8:08pm at an Indian air force station outside New Delhi that is part of the Indira Gandhi International Airport. He arrived amid tight security in India's capital.

It was the first visit by an American president to India in 22 years; the previous visit was by former President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Clinton was accompanied by his daughter, Chelsea, a student at Stanford University, and his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham. His wife, Hillary, stayed in the United States to campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in New York.

The president walked down the plane's stairs waving, with Chelsea, before travelling in a bullet-proof limousine through empty streets. Security forces halted all traffic and kept pedestrians 200 meters away from the route taken by his 40-car convoy.

Thousands of armed policemen patrolled the streets, while military helicopters buzzed overhead.

Earlier in the day, a group of 50 protesters in New Delhi burned an effigy of Clinton, saying he represents neocolonialism and will push American economic interests at the cost of India's. Similar protests were held in other Indian cities.

Communist and socialist groups also have held similar protests and plan demonstrations in cities that Clinton is to visit. Members of the groups fear India will be pressured into signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a global nuclear test ban agreement.

India tested nuclear weapons two years ago, prompting Pakistan to carry out similar tests.

On Monday, Clinton will fly to Dhaka, the capital of neighboring Bangladesh, for a day-long visit - the first by an American president. American businesses are helping Bangladesh tap its vast resources of natural gas.

Clinton will fly back to New Delhi late Monday. His five-day tour officially begins on Tuesday with a ceremonial welcome at the palace of India's president, K.R. Narayanan.

On Saturday, Clinton will stop over briefly in Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet with the country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, before returning to Washington.