THIMPHU: The 16th South AsianAssociation for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit started here at a colourful ceremony in traditional Bhutani style on Wednesday.
The Grand Assembly Hall, has been tastefully decorated by flags of member states, colour and welcome banners and buntings.
Special arrangements have been made by the host country, to welcome the delegates from eight members states and observers.
Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley received all the guests outside the Grand Hall, the venue of the SAARC Summit. The heads of state and government of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also arrived here in separate flights to attend the Summit.
Representatives from the observer states including China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar, Australia, United States, and European Union having observer status to the Summit also reached to Thimphu to participate in the Summit.
Members of royal family also attended the inaugural ceremony of SAARC Summit. The host Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigme Y. Thinley first entered the hall and the leaders entered into the hall according tothe alphabetic order.
The first one was the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, then followed by Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, President of Maldives Mohmed Noshed, Prime Minister of Nepal Madhav Kumar Nepal, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and President of Sri Lankan Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The out going Chairman of the SAARC President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the summit. The Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigme Y. Thinly welcomed the guests on behalf of government of Bhutan and King of Bhutan. He welcomed the two new observers Australia and Myanmar to the SAARC.
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is leading Pakistan's delegation to the 16th SAARC Summit and will highlight the importance of the organization to deal with the issues of poverty, development, water shortage, power shortage, improving connectivity.
Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that the SAARC nations should promote peace and stability to ensure the well-being of their citizens.
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh addressing the inaugural session of the 16th SAARC Summit called upon the member states to renew the pledge to make the region a developed area. He said there a is need to take joint action for regionalcooperation, regional development, promote intra-regional trade andimprove telecommunication and transport links.
The Indian Prime Minister said there is a need to empower regional institutions to make them more active and result oriented. He appreciated the opening of new windows by the SAARC summit, including SAARC Development Fund, Food Bank and South AsianUniversity.
The Indian Prime Minister announced to provide 50 scholarships to the least developed countries of the SAARC for the new session of the University starting this August. He said that the leaders of the SAARC should take up the challenge to translate the institutions into activities, conventions into programmes with more cooperation and interaction.
Indian Prime Minister said the leaders at this summit shouldpledge to build a region that is better connected, better empowered, better fed and have better education facilities. Emphasizing the need for mutual respect for each other in theregion, the Indian Prime Minister said tolerance and respect forothers should be promoted and every one show abhorrence for extremism, terrorism and radicalism.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressing theinaugural session said poverty issue should be given more attentionas out of 1.5 billion population of the region , majority is livingbelow poverty line. She said there is need to take bold decisions to resolve thepoverty issues. She said SAARC's success lied in bridging the gap to unite the people.