PM, Sonia arrive on two-day Kashmir visit


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Jammu and Kashmir governor N N Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, cabinet ministers, and senior civil and army officials received the dignitaries.

Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah are accompanying the Prime Minister on his visit to the Kashmir Valley.

From the airport, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi along with the team of Union Ministers, State governor and the Chief Minister left for south Kashmir's Anantnag district.

Singh will inaugurate the 12-km-long Anantnag-Qazigund stretch of the rail link in south Kashmir on Wednesday. This will complete the 120-km rail connectivity between the valley's north and south.

Expectations are running high here as the prime minister's visit comes after union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's announcement earlier this month that the centre would engage every shade of political opinion to find an honourable and acceptable solution to the problems in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is believed the prime minister will make a clear and lucid announcement regarding the dialogue process that defines the contours of the proposed "quiet diplomacy" being undertaken by the centre on Kashmir.

The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi are also scheduled to address a public meeting at Anantnag.
Later in the day, Singh will chair a meeting of the economic reconstruction committee in the summer capital Srinagar and will also meet delegations of various mainstream political parties.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made in Anantnag district where the entire area around the inauguration site has been taken over by a special security group, paramilitary central reserve police force (CRPF) and the local police.

"Fool-proof arrangements are in place to ensure that militants are prevented from creating any trouble," a senior police officer said.

To protest against the prime minister's visit to Kashmir, both factions of the separatist Hurriyat group headed by hardline Syed Ali Geelani and the so-called moderate Mirwaiz Umer Farooq have called for a complete shutdown here on Wednesday.

Public transport is off the roads and shops and other business establishments are closed here while only private transport is plying on the city roads.

Attendance in government offices, banks and educational institutions was also affected because of the non-availability of public transport.

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