Mumbai's Taj hotel ready for a Spanish handshake
New Delhi, Dec 31 (IANS) In an act of faith in India's business capital that was shaken by but did not bow to the Nov 26 terror strike, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega will become the first high-profile foreign dignitary to check into Mumbai's iconic Taj Mahal hotel next week.
De la Vega, Spain's first woman deputy prime minister who also holds the position of first vice-president, begins her six-day visit to India from New Delhi Saturday.
Officials in the external affairs ministry told IANS that she will go to Mumbai Jan 6 and stay in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel that was one of the places targeted during the terror carnage in which over 170 people were killed.
The hotel by the bay front which was badly ravaged by the terrorists who came to Mumbai via sea route from Karachi, re-opened Dec 21 amid chants of multi-faith prayers, symbolising the city's never-die spirit.
With Spain in the firing range of home-grown terrorism spearheaded by Basque separatists and Al Qaeda-affiliated radical Islamists, the Spanish leader's decision to stay in the hotel here is being seen as a gesture of solidarity and act of faith in India.
Spain got its first taste of global terrorism four years ago with the bombing of trains in Madrid by suspected Al Qaeda terrorists and strengthening counter-terror cooperation will be on top of the minister's agenda, the officials said.
De la vega will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Monday. She will also be meeting President Pratibha Patil and Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
India will share evidence of the complicity of Pakistan-based elements in the audacious terror strikes targeting Mumbai and muster Madrid's support to pressurise Islamabad in intensifying the crackdown on the terror machine that is said to enjoy the patronage of sections of the establishment in that country, the officials said.
Spain, which became the US' key ally in the war against terror after the 9/11 attacks in New York, is likely to support India as the country fears an upsurge of Islamic radicalism and Al Qaeda activities.
The situation in Afghanistan, where Spain has committed 700 soldiers, will also figure in the discussions.
Besides counter-terror cooperation, the two sides will also hold talks on a wide spectrum of issues, including intensification of business and cultural ties and the global financial downturn that has brought the Spanish economy on the verge of its worst recession in decades.
The Spanish economy shrank 0.2 percent in the third quarter of this year with unemployment rate soaring to 11.3 percent, the highest in the European Union.
The Spanish Secret Service (C.N.I.) in April had warned of the increased risk of a new terrorist attack in Spain by Islamic extremists and told a Spanish daily that Spain is now Al Qaeda's prime target in Europe. The terror group's larger goal consists of recovering 'al-Andalus', a Moorish reference to the four-fifths of Spain that was ruled by Muslims for 800 years until 1492.
Spanish intelligence agencies have also said that extremists from Pakistan are active in the northeastern region of Catalonia, especially in Barcelona, where police are tracking Pakistan-based groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tsiba (LeT), suspected by India of having masterminded the Mumbai carnage.
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