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Prez embarks on visit to Seychelles, SA

New Delhi: President Pratibha Patil today left on an official tour to Seychelles and South Africa, a visit expected to further boost India`s friendly ties with the two African countries.

The President was given a warm send off by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Secretary R K Singh, Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, representatives from South Africa and Seychelles Embassies and others.

Patil, possibly on her last foreign visit before she retires on July 25, will reach Seychelles in the first leg of her tour. She would be in South Africa from May 1 to 7.

India`s ties with South Africa are enjoined by a strategic partnership. This will be the second Presidential visit to Seychelles, the strategically located island in Indian Ocean, after that of President R Venkataraman way back in 1989.

In Seychelles, Patil will have a meeting with her counterpart James Alix Michel during which various aspects of bilateral relations and regional and international issues are expected to be discussed. A highlight of the Seychelles visit is that the President will address the Special Session of the National Assembly.

Patil`s visit to South Africa is another indication of New Delhi`s growing ties with Pretoria. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the country in October last year for the IBSA Summit.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma was in New Delhi last month for the BRICS Summit and had paid a state visit to India in June 2010 in what was then his first bilateral visit to any Asian country.

A business delegation is also accompanying Patil that will address the India-South Africa Business Forum meet. Trade between India and South Africa was pegged at over USD 11 billion in 2010-11, of which imports were more than seven billion and exports around four billion. The trade turnover target has been revised to USD 15 billion by 2014.

The main items of exports from India to South Africa are mineral fuel, mineral oil, engineering goods, textiles, gems and jewellery, chemicals, drugs and pharmaceuticals among others. Gold forms an important part of India`s import.

In South Africa, the President will visit places associated with Mahatma Gandhi, including Pietermaritzburg Station where he had been thrown out of a first class compartment of a train during the apartheid regime. Patil will also meet representatives of Gandhi Communities in South Africa.

In Johannesburg, she will visit the Number Four Prison where the Mahatma had been incarcerated by the apartheid regime. She will also unveil a bust of the Father of the Nation at the Constitution Hill. In Durban, Patil will visit the Phoenix Settlement and offer floral tributes at the bust of Gandhi.

The President is expected to visit Robben Island where South African anti-apartheid struggle hero Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned in Cell Number Five. Patil will meet President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria and hold discussions with him on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interests.

Substantial scope for trade growth exists in potential areas of cooperation such as mining, manufacturing, petroleum sector, drugs and pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, automobiles sector, food processing and information technology. The members of the delegation accompanying the President are Union Minister Sachin Pilot and MPs Prabha Thakur and Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre.

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