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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Sharon cancels Taj Mahal visit
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has cancelled a trip to India's most famous tourist site, the Taj Mahal, Indian officials say.

But they would not confirm reports that the reason was a disagreement over security arrangements for Mr Sharon.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon is not expected to sign any arms deals
The Indian authorities have promised "unprecedented security" for the visit, which has now been cut short by a day.

Left-wing groups say are planning big rallies against next week's visit which has been denounced by Muslim groups.

It comes less than a month after the United States lifted objections to Israel selling India a $1bn early warning airborne radar system.

However, Indian officials say no deal on the system will be signed during Mr Sharon's trip.

No comment

Mr Sharon had been planning to arrive in India on Sunday and then visit the Taj Mahal, in the city of Agra, on Monday.

Israeli media reports say Indian and Israeli officials could not agree on how close Mr Sharon should be allowed to get to the Taj before being obliged to abandon his bullet-proof car.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi - Sharon plans to visit his mausoleum

An Indian foreign ministry official would not comment on those reports, saying only that Mr Sharon would not visit Agra.

A statement put out by the ministry said Mr Sharon would arrive in India on Monday before starting three days of official business on Tuesday.

Muslim protesters in India's commercial centre, Bombay (Mumbai) staged a demonstration on Friday denouncing the Israeli leader as an "enemy of humanity".

Muslim anger in India over Mr Sharon's policy towards the Palestinians has received support from left-wing parties.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has vowed to rally outside the Israeli embassy in the capital, Delhi, on Tuesday.

"Israel has occupied Palestine and enslaved its entire people. It's a shame that the Indian government should invite such an oppressor as a state guest," Pushpinder Grewal said, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Left-wingers are also planning to disrupt a visit by Mr Sharon to the Rajghat mausoleum in Delhi that pays homage to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

They say Mr Sharon's hard-line policy towards the Palestinians makes him unfit to visit a centre dedicated to a champion of non-violence.

'No chances'

Mr Sharon's visit comes as investigators are still searching for the people responsible for two massive bombs in Bombay last week that left more than 50 people dead.

The authorities have blamed Muslim extremists for the attack.

"There will be an unprecedented level of security for the Israeli prime minister's visit. We are taking no chances," the police officer in charge of security for Mr Sharon's visit, Maxwell Pereira, told the AFP news agency.

This is the first visit to India by an Israeli prime minister for 11 years.

Mr Sharon will be accompanied by a number of Israeli arms suppliers.

Military co-operation between the two sides has increased in recent years. Indian officials have, however, been downplaying reports that they will sign significant defence agreements during Mr Sharon's visit.

Last month the United States lifted its objections to Israel selling India its Phalcon early warning airborne radar system.

Pakistan said the decision would adversely affect the delicate nuclear balance between it and India.

The Indian foreign ministry statement said several agreements to check narcotics trade, environment, health, education and culture will be signed.

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Israel questions Phalcon trade-off
13 Jul 00  |  Media reports
India signs 'historic' US arms deal
18 Apr 02  |  Business

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