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PMs meet at cricket semi-final

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan are mixing politics with pleasure, joining tens of thousands of cricket fans in a northern Indian stadium to watch their rival nations in the World Cup semi-final.

The attendance of India's Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Yousuf Gilani at the match in Mohali coincides with a resumption in talks toward restoring trust between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who for decades have viewed one another as major threats to their national security.

Mr Gilani said he hoped his visit would improve relations and looked forward to an exciting match, which is set to be bring the two countries to a standstill as millions tune in on TV.

He urged citizens in the two countries to enjoy the performances of both teams - an attempt to mitigate the inevitable disappointment one side will feel in losing the match between the arch rivals.

"I am going there to show solidarity with our team, with their team and to promote cricket," Mr Gilani told reporters at a military base outside Islamabad before flying to India with a 20-member delegation that included many senior ministers.

The prime ministers' meeting is expected to give both men a chance to speak candidly on a range of tense issues without the pressure of public expectations, as all eyes across South Asia were focused on the cricket.

Mr Singh will host a dinner for Mr Gilani on the sidelines of the match in Mohali, in the border state of Punjab. It is Mr Gilani's first visit to India as prime minister, and echoes a similar effort at so-called "cricket diplomacy" in 2005 when General Pervez Musharraf, then president, joined Mr Singh for a match in New Delhi.

Little was expected from the meeting, however, as the nations remain in disagreement over key issues, including the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir, where they maintain heavily armed deployments along a ceasefire line through the mountains.

Both prime ministers also face strong opposition at home to compromising on positions entrenched over decades, while Mr Gilani's civilian government struggles to operate independently from Pakistan's military.

Nevertheless, the meeting marks a tentative return of goodwill, after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants led to a suspension in peace talks.


From Belfast Telegraph