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Last Updated: Monday, 25 October, 2004, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Burma leader in rare India talks
Burmese head of state Than Shwe (left) and Indian PM Manmohan Singh
Than Shwe (left) meets Indian PM Manmohan Singh
The head of Burma's military government, Senior General Than Shwe, has met India's prime minister during a rare trip out of his country.

The two sides have signed three agreements on security, cultural exchanges and hydro-electric power.

It is the first visit by a Burmese head of state to India in nearly 25 years.

The visit has been condemned by Burmese pro-democracy groups in India, who say it encourages military dictatorship and repressive rule in Burma.

General Than is leading a delegation of eight cabinet ministers for six days of talks.

Earlier on Monday he was given a ceremonial welcome at the colonial-era presidential palace in Delhi, where he was greeted by Indian President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

I understand the compulsions of government of India in seeking to have a good working relationship, but I strongly think it's not the right time to receive him
Soe Mynt
Burmese activist

General Than's rare journey out of Burma is going ahead despite his prime minister, Khin Nyunt, being ousted last week.

India, which once openly supported Aung San Suu Kyi, has been quietly wooing the Burmese military leadership in recent years.

Analysts say India is keen to engage Burma to offset China's influence in the region. Delhi has pushed trade and investment initiatives with Burma since the 1990s as part of its "Look East" policy.

Delhi also wants Burma's help in combating rebels operating in the north-east of India.

Protests

The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava in Delhi says the relationship is of mutual benefit, as an endorsement from the world's largest democracy is also vital for the visiting general.

Burmese children protest in Delhi about the Burmese leader's visit
The visit has angered activists and Burmese expatriates
Burma - referred to as Myanmar by its military junta - has been criticised worldwide for resisting democracy and detaining the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The visit is being opposed by Burmese exiles living in India.

"I understand the compulsions of government of India in seeking to have a good working relationship, but I strongly think it's not the right time to receive him," a Delhi-based pro-democracy activist and journalist, Soe Mynt, told the AFP news agency.

Around 150 protesters, mainly women and children, held a demonstration in the Indian capital, Delhi, on Saturday.

"It's a national shame to roll out the red carpet for murderer Than Shwe," read one banner they held.




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