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Leaders seek vibrant progress in achieving SAARC goals

INDIA: Leaders from eight South Asian countries collectively voiced the need for greater pace and vibrant progress within SAARC when the regional grouping's 14th summit was declared open at the Vigyan Bhavan Convention centre in New Delhi yesterday.

Before the formal inauguration of the landmark event by Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, the leaders flagged off a SAARC car-rally symbolizing strengthened ties, connectivity, regional identity and cultural commonalities at the South Plaza.

The car rally comprising 30 vehicles and 120 participants, representing all sister nations including the newest member Afghanistan, took off to cover the Indian stretch of its tour, while the leaders accompanied by their wives waved yellow flags with the SAARC logo, wishing peace and prosperity to the region.

Indian Premier which took over as the new Chairman of the SAARC from the outgoing Chair Bangladesh, in his opening remarks said the region was at a crucial crossroads as it was "in the midst of unprecedented economic and political transformation".

Sri Lankan President making a tough speech spelt out the need for transforming the past SAARC pledges into action.

His speech underscored the need for rural development, promotion of intra-regional trade, introduction of a single currency and a joint counter terrorism strategy that can be applied for the entire region.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz emphasizing the need for moving into concrete action away from debate and deliberations suggested a road map for commitments to achieve "genuine peace and security within and between borders".

Maldivian President M. Abdul Gayoom, the only leader who had represented SAARC in all its 14 summits, said SAARC was yet to realise the envisioned economic openness within the region.

The countries also approved observer status for Iran to attend future SAARC meetings as a monitor.

Bangladesh Chief Advisor to the interim administration Fakhruddin Ahmed, Bhutan Prime Minister Khandu Wangchuk and Nepali Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, also addressed the summit.

The summit will continue today, the final day.

The Sri Lankan delegation to the SAARC inaugural ceremony comprised President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, Ambassador Romesh Jayasinghe, Legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr.Rohan Perera and DG SAARC Mrs. Grace Ashirwadan.

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Yesterday's key SAARC decisions

INDIA: Visa stickers for 50 journalists from each SAARC country allowing unrestricted access.

India announced unilateral liberalization of visas for students, teachers, professors, journalists and patients from SAARC countries.

India will allow duty free access to Least Developed South Asian neighbours and further reduce the sensitive list in respect of these countries before end of this year.

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