By Pratap Chakravarty (AFP) – Jan 26, 2010
NEW DELHI — Blanket fog obscured India's 60th Republic Day celebrations Tuesday, with the annual military parade in New Delhi held under heightened security due to fears of militant attacks.
Before the ceremonies kicked off, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire along their border in Kashmir, while four policemen were hurt in bomb blasts in the northeast where separatist groups traditionally disrupt the event.
Paramilitary officer J.B. Sagwan in Kashmir accused Pakistan of opening fire to help cross-border rebels sneak into the Indian zone of the divided territory but said no one was injured in the clash -- the third reported exchange this year.
In New Delhi, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, the guest of honour at the main celebration, joined his Indian counterpart Pratibha Patil in a bullet-proof enclosure as the military paraded its latest weaponry.
Around 15,000 police officers lined barricades across Delhi and paramilitary soldiers manned sand-bagged pillboxes along the fogged out eight-kilometre (five-mile) parade route, city police commissioner Y.S.Dadwal said.
"Special emphasis was laid on anti-sabotage checks, access control measures and intelligence coordination," he added.
"Elaborate air defence measures, including deployment of anti-aircraft guns, were also taken to check possible intrusion of air space," Dadwal said.
Dense fog spoiled the spectacle for thousands of spectators watching the march past which included camel-back troops along Delhi's ceremonial Rajpath avenue.
India also showcased its latest prized possession, an Israel-built airborne early warning system, which joined a 28-plane fly-past that was largely obscured from view.
President Patil on the eve of the celebrations hailed the "achievements" of the past 60 years, but warned of a growing gap between demand and supply of food products.
"There is a rising demand for food grains and this foretells the need for an intense focus on increasing agriculture productivity to ensure food availability ... and avoid spiralling food prices," Patil said.
The contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product has skidded from 53 percent in 1950 to 21 percent in 2008, prompting worries of lopsided economic growth.
Security was especially tight this year, following a series of incidents and alerts.
On Friday, India upped airport security and warned its embassies in neighbouring countries of possible passenger plane hijacking attempts by Islamic militants, following intelligence tip-offs.
Last week's raid by Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul also set alarm bells ringing, with its strong echoes of the 2008 militant attacks on India's financial capital Mumbai.
Celebrations were held across the country, and similar measures were enforced in major cities such as Mumbai and the insurgency-hit northeast.
A separatist-sponsored strike kept people off the streets in towns across the Kashmir Valley where thousands have died since 1989 in an anti-Indian revolt.
Republic Day marks the date in 1950 when India's new constitution came into effect. India gained independence from Britain in 1947, but went through a transitional phase when it was still classed as a dominion.
The 60th anniversary comes as India is emerging as an increasingly powerful economic and diplomatic player, but some used the occasion to highlight domestic concerns over unemployment, poverty, healthcare and social inequality.
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