11/08/2010, 00.00
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US-Indian friendship, key for the 21st century

by Nirmala Carvalho
The US president concludes his three-day visit to India today, setting the bases for a stable bilateral partnership between India and the United States. Indonesia is his next stop. Yesterday he visited a Catholic school, Holy Name of Jesus School in Colaba.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Barack Obama ended his visit to India settling a number of points, including closer US-India anti-terror cooperation, defending free markets in Asia and greater aid in the field of civilian nuclear power. Obama, who described the United States and India as the world’s two largest democracies, met today Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two leaders agreed to a trade deal worth US$ 10 billion. In a speech, the US leader said that the US-India partnership was crucial for the 21st century. Speaking about Pakistan, he urged the US ally to live in peace with India. On terrorism, he acknowledged what Pakistan has done so far, but insisted Islamabad had to do more. “I think the Pakistani government understands now the potential threat that exists within their own borders,” he said. Unfortunately, “progress is not as quick as we’d like,”

The president began his day on Sunday by visiting the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School, venue of all the religious ceremonies that followed the Taj Mahal Hotel terror attack in 2008.

A small group of 24 students welcomed Mr Obama and his wife Michelle. “We are surprised and happy that our school was chosen for Diwali celebrations with the US president,” said Fr Michael Pinto who runs the school.

Founded in 1939, the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School is known for its cultural and educational activities. In 2008, the funerals of Taj Mahal Hotel victims were held on its premises. The structure was also used to provide psychological counselling to survivors.

The school is located in the old fishing colony of Colaba. Traditional Koli dancers performed before the president and the First Lady. The presidential couple also visited the school’s auditorium where they lighted two lamps in keeping with the traditions of Diwali, the festival of lights.

Fr Michael Pinto told AsiaNews that two of the school’s students lost parents in the Taj Mahal attack; another student was among the killed.

“We have had many anger management sessions after the attack to help our kids heal psychologically,” the clergyman said. “We also helped them financially.”

Most of the 3,000 students are Hindu (60 per cent), followed by Muslims (35 per cent) and Christians (5 per cent).

The Obamas’ visit lasted about 40 minutes. At one point, the two were surrounded by students asking for autographs.

The US leader is now off to Jakarta where he is scheduled to arrive tomorrow on a 24-hour visit. It will be the first visit by the US president to the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

For Obama, Indonesia is like a second homeland. He lived in the Asian nation for two years and attended two different schools as a child.

In addition to official meetings, the president will visit the great Istiqlal Mosque and a university in Depok. Tight security is expected, especially in light of planned demonstrations and protests by Islamic fundamentalists.

(Mathias Hariyadi contributed reporting)

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