Thai premier arrives Sunday on two-day visit


New Delhi : Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont arrives here on a two-day visit Sunday with a 30-member business delegation to give a push to economic and cultural relations between the two Asian countries.

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Apart from entering into a bilateral agreement on energy and another on cultural exchanges, Surayud's visit will also push for early conclusion to a free trade pact between India and Thailand, officials said.

Thai embassy officials here said Suryayud will also visit Varanasi June 27 and travel to the Sarnath temple, one of the holiest pilgrim sites for Buddhists where Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment.

The prime minister, who arrives here late Sunday evening from Bangkok, will be given a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan the next morning after which he addresses a business summit at the Taj Mahal hotel.

The India-Thai Business Summit is being co-organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

The emphasis of the summit will be on pushing bilateral trade, which stood at $2.86 billion last fiscal and has been projected by Ficci to touch $7 billion by 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Surayud will also lead their respective sides at the official level talks in the evening and witness the signing of some bilateral pacts including those on renewable energy and culture, officials said.

Besides President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh, he is also scheduled to engage with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy Vilas Muttemwar.

The Thai leader's talks with Mukherjee come soon after India's weeklong Look East diplomatic initiative that also took the Indian minister to Indonesia and Singapore. Surayud leaves for Bangkok Wednesday evening.

A former commander-in-chief of the Thai Army, Surayud became prime minister Oct 1 last year after toppling his predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup Sep 19.

Time magazine had hailed him as one of its "Asian heroes" and praised him "as the most important Thai military figure of the modern era" who played a major role in changing the military's public image as a modern professional unit.