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World cup semi-final: Gilani arrives in India

Screen capture of Gilani waving to the cameras as he arrives in India.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani arrived in Chandigarh in India on Wednesday to watch the Pakistan-India semi-final clash in Mohali.

He will be meeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President of Indian National Congress Party Sonia Gandhi at the Mohali stadium.

Speaking to the media at the Chaklala base before departure, Gilani said he is grateful to his Indian counterpart for the invitation to the match.

The premier said his visit will serve to improve relations between both countries. Gilani appreciated the interior secretary level talks between the two neighbours. He also said the morale of the Pakistan team is very high and he is hopeful for a victory.

Updated from print edition (below)

Nerve-tingling excitement: All roads lead to Mohali

Pakistanis and Indians were on the edge of their seats on Tuesday ahead of their teams’ crucial World Cup encounter at Mohali and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s flight to India at the head of a 51-strong delegation to watch the semi-final.

The premier will fly to India on Wednesday morning and join his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in watching what promises to be a scorcher of a clash between the two sides.Life has come to a standstill in cities and towns across the country, with educational institutions declaring a holiday in Sindh and Punjab and government offices making special arrangements to view the match. The excitement was palpable everywhere from Mohali to Lahore and from Karachi to Gujrat.

The mood is upbeat, more so after the extraordinary bonhomie generated by the agreement reached by the home secretaries on information sharing – not just about the Mumbai attack but also in the future.

The Indian team was at the stadium today practicing while the Pakistan team took over to familiarise itself with the grounds later at night.

The premier’s delegation includes seven ministers, their spouses and members of parliament drawn from several political parties, including the opposition. A few relatives of the premier are accompanying him on the trip such as Gilani’s brother (and provincial legislator) Ahmed Mujtaba and his wife, as well as his brother-in-law.

Gilani is not taking any top official of the Foreign Office with him, indicating that the two sides will not raise any mutual issues during their encounter at the Mohali cricket stadium. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar will assist the prime minister during his talks with the Indian prime minister. The two prime ministers are expected to have a conversation on all issues of mutual interest on the sidelines of the match.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will reach the venue at 1:00pm. Gilani and Singh will have a spot of lunch and will watch the match together. The Indian premier is scheduled to fly back to New Delhi the same night at around 11:00pm while Gilani will stay on and leave the next morning. He will be bid goodbye by Governor Shivraj Patil and Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will hold a press conference during the match.

To prevent any harm from coming to the Indian or Pakistani team the Taj Hotel, where the two teams are staying has been sequestered. Both ends of the road to the hotel are closed.

Gilani will leave Chaklala airbase at 10am and reach Chandigarh airport at 11.25am (Indian Standard Time), from where he will be taken to Mohali cricket stadium.

Gilani will spend Wednesday night at the beautifully appointed and scenic UT Guest House adjoining the Raj Bhavan and a lake (which is where most of the Pakistani delegation has been housed). Giant TV screens have been ordered by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at the UT Guest House so that those members of the delegation who stay back can watch the match in the guest house itself.

The official delegation comprises Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and Interior Minister Rehman Malik and their spouses, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, Haji Umar Gorgage, minister for postal services, Labour Minister Syed Khurshed Shah, Sports Minister Engineer Shaukatullah, Minister of State for foreign affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and her husband Feroz Gulzar, Senator Sughar Imam (PPP), MNA Afsandyar Wali Khan of the Awami National Party, former minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Lt Gen R MNA Abdul Qadir Baloch (PML-N), Munir Khan Orakzai (Fata), Laiq Mohammad Khan (PML), Sherry Rehman (PPP), Farooq Satar (MQM), Mrs Naheed Rashid, sister of Farooq Satar, Khawaja Sohail Mansoor (MQM), Riaz Hussain Pirzada, (PML), Kashmala Tariq (PML), Syed Ahmad Mujtaba, MPA, Itrat Bano, (wife of Ahmed Mujtaba), Sharmila Farooqi, Moinul Islam Bokhari, Nargis Moin, wife of Moin Bokhari, Mr and Mrs Faisal Butt, Mr and Mrs Zahid Rafiq, Badar Zia and his son Attaur Rehman, Kamran Kiyani and Safdar Kiyani, Mrs and Mrs Shahid Rafique , chief of protocol Ghalib Iqbal, principal secretary to PM Gilani, Khushnood Lashari, press secretary Shabbir Anwar, military secretary Nasir Dilawar, SSP Imran Mahmood and ADC to PM Shahzad Fatah. Only six journalists PJ Mir, Rauf Klasra, Saleh Zafir, Nasim Zehra, Quatrina Hussain and Asma Sherazi have been invited to join the VVIP flight to India.

Govt’s gift: Half working day today

Prime Minister Gilani on Tuesday announced that today will be a half working day in lieu of the Pakistan-India World Cup semi-final.

All federal government offices will close at 12 noon,a press release issued from the PM House stated.

Gilani is visiting India today at the invitation of Manmohan Singh to watch the match.

The SC has also made special arrangements. CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has directed the court administration to install a big screen inside the auditorium.

Meanwhile Sindh High Court CJ Mushir Alam said that courts in the province will be closed today.

With additional reporting by Aditi Phadnis in Mohali and by Sumera Khan in Islamabad.