Clinton visits hospital on final day in India

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The Independent Online

U.S. President Bill Clinton administered a polio vaccine to a bright-eyed baby girl Friday, visited tuberculosis patients and told his Indian hosts "the fight against infectious disease should be an important part of our partnership with you."

At a hospital in this developing technology and business center, Clinton recalled the contributions of Indian scientists and a long history of cooperation with U.S. researchers.

"If we can join forces on health, determined again to place science in the service of humanity, we can defeat these diseases," Clinton said Friday at Mahavir Hospital. "We can give our children the healthy and hopeful lives they deserve in this new century."

Clinton squeezed the polio vaccine into the mouth of an 8-month-old named Sandya, who grimaced as her mother held her before the president. He also spoke briefly with three tuberculosis patients and watched as 12-year-old Chaitanya took the final pill in her treatment.

As he arrived in Hyderabad, thousands of activists waving flags and beating drums protested his visit, screaming "American warmonger, world's enemy, go back!" Some wore T-shirts that read "India not for sale," and others were dressed in traditional saris.

The protesters, who carried a black papier mache effigy of Clinton, were accompanied by some 200 armed policemen.

Later, he addressed business leaders in the city considered the hub of India's emerging high-tech industry with offices of Microsoft, Oracle, GE Capital and other American firms.

He ends the day in Bombay, India's business center, his last stop before visiting Pakistan on Saturday.

On Thursday, Clinton went to the rural village of Nayla and heard stories of women battling for higher wages, education for girls, better social conditions and against forced marriages. One of their enterprises is a women-run milk cooperative that sells directly to a dairy, cutting out the middlemen.

"There was an edge to those women today," Clinton said admiringly later. "They had something. It was special. They knew they'd done something that mattered."

In courtyard outside a community center, the president joined the women in a traditional folk dance, trying to match them swaying and waving their hands. They showered Clinton with yellow and red flower petals that stuck in his hair and blanketed his shirt. "It took me three hours to get them out," he said.

Clinton's next stop was at a hilltop fortress - Amber Fort - that was built by a maharaja in the 16th century. The palace gateways were built high enough to let elephants pass - and there were more than a dozen elephants, all painted in bright pastels, waiting for the president.

He avoided a run-in with frisky monkeys by surrendering the lei he was wearing around his neck.

"Once I was deflowered they didn't pay attention to me," the president said with a laugh. "I don't mind these monkeys liking me but I don't want to get 4,700 shots" if they had bit him.

The president paused to inspect rugs and goods being sold by craftsmen. A sculptor showed a clay image of the president topped with a turban.

From the fort, Clinton flew by helicopter to Ranthambhore National Forest Reserve, home to the endangered Bengal tiger.

The president and his daughter, Chelsea, rode in an open bus that crept along dusty roadways to a watering hole, where they came across a male tiger sprawled in dry grass about 6 meters (20 feet) away.

Several hundred yards away, they spotted a second tiger.

The president said that at the request of wildlife experts, he would issue a plea for preservation of India's endangered tigers against continued poaching. Twenty of the magnificent animals were lost last year, he said.

Clinton leaves India with at least one regret: He followed the advice of White House advisers who, fearing embarrassing pictures, persuaded him not to ride on a painted elephant.

"I desperately wanted to ride on an elephant's back," Clinton lamented later. "I've always wanted to do it."