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Manmohan to host Chirac, any hope for Sikhs in France?

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    Paris, February 16
    President Jacques Chirac heads to Thailand and India this week for a visit that narrowly missed being overshadowed by concerns over a decommissioned French aircraft carrier laden with toxic materials.

    The asbestos-carrying Clemenceau had been en route to India to be dismantled when Mr Chirac ordered it to return to France yesterday. Environmentalists have assailed the ship as hazardous, and the Indian Supreme Court had been studying the risks to workers taking it apart.

    With the ship on its way back to France, Mr Chirac can focus his trip on boosting economic ties, as planned.

    He will spend Friday and Saturday in Thailand, becoming the first French president to pay an official visit to the country. Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit have invited him for a state dinner at the palace.

    The French leader will hold talks with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pay homage to victims of the 2005 Tsunami, and announce a push for more French businesses in Thailand. Mr Chirac’s state visit to India starting Sunday will be his first since 1998.

    Aside from any fallout from the Clemenceau dispute, another possible sore spot in his India visit is last month’s bid by Mittal Steel Co., run by NRI Lakshmi N. Mittal and based in the Netherlands, to buy Arcelor SA.

    Mr Chirac is expected to meet Mr Mittal in New Delhi, his office said.

    He is also to sign an agreement for a French-Indian telecommunication satellite, a framework accord on defence cooperation and a pact to cooperate on nuclear power.

    Mr Chirac said the process of consultation initiated by France, since the Indo-American declaration on July 18 last year, “continues today with the support of the American administration and other major partners”.

    He said “recognition of a special status for India with respect to the NSG is a priority for us. We are close to reaching an agreement, but more work is required on both sides. Asked why there was delay in the agreement since he considered India responsible, he said “because it is a multilateral issue, France stands firmly alongside India. — AP, PTI

    Would President Chirac refuse to meet Dr Manmohan Singh?: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement, on Wednesday, that he was "hopeful of a positive outcome" for turban-wearing Sikhs in France is welcome. The French government's ban on all visible religious symbols, including headscarves, large crosses and turbans, has been objected to not only by the Sikhs, but has also created a worldwide controversy, more

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