French President Sarkozy, Bruni visit Taj Mahal

December 5, 2010 16:04
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AGRA, India  — French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni made a brief visit to the Taj Mahal during an official trip to India, officials said Sunday.

The grounds of the 17th century monument to love in Agra were closed during their visit Saturday evening, protocol officer Alok Shekhar Tiwari said. Photographers and TV cameramen were not allowed inside.

Sarkozy toured the Taj Mahal alone during a visit to India in 2008. At the time, India made it clear that Bruni, who was then his girlfriend, would not be welcome on the official visit if the two were not married.

On Sunday, the French first couple visited Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost town on the outskirts of Agra that was the capital of the Mogul empire in the 1500s.

Rais Mian, a Muslim cleric who hosted them at a religious shrine in Fatehpur Sikri, told them the shrine grants the wishes of visitors, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

"He (Sarkozy) asked me to pray for him and wish him success," PTI quoted Mian as saying. "Carla said she wants a son and I prayed for them."

Sarkozy and Bruni then left for New Delhi, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) to the north, for a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The two leaders are to hold official talks on Monday, when Sarkozy is expected to try to drum up business for French companies.

An agreement between French nuclear power company Areva SA and India's Nuclear Power Corp. on building power plants in India is likely to be signed, said T.P. Seetharam, a top official in India's Ministry of External Affairs.

India is planning about 20 nuclear power plants to help supply its burgeoning energy needs.

Sarkozy, who arrived Saturday, is accompanied by his defense, foreign and finance ministers and nearly 60 business leaders.

No defense agreements are expected during the visit, but Sarkozy is likely to push for French companies to win contracts to supply military hardware.

French companies are negotiating to upgrade 51 Mirage-2000 jet fighters in the Indian air force. India is also in the market to buy 126 fighter jets, a deal worth $11 billion, and about 200 helicopters worth another $4 billion.

According to defense experts, India is expected to spend $80 billion between 2012 and 2022 to upgrade its military.

Sarkozy is to visit Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, before returning home Tuesday.

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