Police in India Arrest Over 100 anti-Sharon Demonstrators

Mumbai police arrested more than 100 Muslims who were demonstrating Tuesday against the visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The arrests came amidst growing concern over possible terror attacks targeting Sharon and his entourage, which contains more than 100 people.

According to the Times of India, New Delhi police forces are keeping a close watch on some groups of radical Palestinian students who may try and cause disturbances during Sharon's three-day visit to New Delhi.

The newspaper quoted intelligence reports that said the Muslim Students' Union, a group of Palestinian students based in Pune, was planning some "action" during Sharon's visit and that several members of the Pune-based group had arrived in New Delhi.

"We know for a fact that they are armed and capable of causing damage. The movements of the Palestinian students in Delhi are also being closely watched," a senior police officer told the Times.

He did not rule out the possibility that these students could be used by local militant groups, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed or Lashkar-e-Taiba, to cause massive disturbances in the city.

The New Delhi police had earlier admitted that Jaish or Lashkar terrorists could be employed by Hamas or even Al-Qaida to foment trouble in the city, the paper reported.

Israel Radio reported Tuesday that demonstrators gathered in a predominantly Muslim section of Mumbai raised banners and chanted anti-Israel slogans. Nearly half of them were detained by police.

Authorities are expecting more protests in other cities across India.

Indian PM: Sharon visit will raise relations to 'entirely new level'Indian Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee has described defense cooperation between his country and Israel as "substantial and growing," and has said that he is "confident" the visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who arrived in India on Monday, "will raise our bilateral relationship to an entirely new level of cooperation."

Vajpayee made the comments in an exclusive interview to Haaretz a few hours before Sharon landed for the first-ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to India. "We see this first visit to India of a prime minister of Israel as a landmark in the history of our bilateral ties," he said.

Asked whether he approves of Israel's assassinations policy, and whether his own country should adopt it, Vajpayee maintained a diplomatic silence. Pressed to respond to Israel's attempt last Saturday to kill Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, India's Prime Minister uttered a short sentence fraught with meaning. "Violence," Vajpayee remarked, "does not contribute to anything."

Sharon's visit dovetails with the intensive Indian interest in terror. The mantra on everyone's lips - at least those who support the visit - is "common destiny, similar threats, and the joint struggle of two democratic states against fundamentalist terrorism."

According to the Indian press, a joint statement will be issued during the trip announcing closer ties in the fight against terror, increased intelligence cooperation between the two countries - including cooperation agreements against hijackings - and there might be a signing of an agreement about technology sales and Israeli training of Indian special forces against suicide attacks.

Additionally, Indian officials will put the seal of approval on the sale of Israel's Phalcon advanced airborne radar system.

Sharon officially launched his historic visit Tuesday by laying a wreath at the memorial of the subcontinent's great peacemaker, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

After the ceremonial welcome, amid tight security and planned protests against Sharon, the prime minister was planning to get down to the business of defense deals, trade and counterterrorism talks.

"I hope this visit, the first by an Israeli prime minister, will help us to move forward and accomplish all the things that we believe in," Sharon said, after inspecting an honor guard at the presidential palace.

"We regard India as one of the most important countries in the world," he said. "We share our belief in democracy."

Sharon then placed a wreath at the memorial of Gandhi, the father of India's independence movement who was slain by a Hindu fundamentalist in 1948.

Afterwards Sharon met with Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam and Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha. He was scheduled to hold talks with Vajpayee later Tuesday.

Pakistan, India's neighbor and chief rival, warned of the "dangerous consequences" of a military alliance between Israel and India following Sharon's arrival Monday for the three-day visit. Sharon hopes to seal the $1 billion sale of the Phalcon advanced airborne radar system to India.

"I think such a collaboration should be avoided at all costs," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said, adding it would hurt peace in the region.

Sharon's visit to India, a prime defense client, underscores a mutual struggle with Islamic militancy. India established full diplomatic ties with Israel 11 years ago.

[The Indian prime minister's office demanded that this interview be presented for its approval prior to publication. Part of the interview was edited by the prime minister's office, which requested a rewording of some of the questions that were considered to be inappropriately phrased.]