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India celebrates Republic Day by flexing military muscle

India celebrates Republic Day by flexing military muscle

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah was the guest of honor yesterday at India's annual Republic Day parade, leading a review of elite troops, weapons and folk dancers in the national capital.

Abdullah, flanked by lance-bearing liveried cavalry, was escorted by President Abdul Kalam to New Delhi's Central Vista parade grounds.

The parade is centered on Raj Path, the mall surrounded by government offices and the palace of former British viceroys which is now home to the president.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his cabinet colleagues and Saudi delegates also attended the parade which wound past a World War II memorial raised in honor of India, a major contributor to the Allied forces.

The celebrations mark India's transition to a republic in 1950 after independence in 1947.

The military displayed its Russian-built T-90 tanks as well as howitzers and models of its nuclear-capable Agni (Fire) ballistic missile which has been tested more than five times since 1993.

India, which budgeted 14 billion dollars for defense in the fiscal year ending March 31 and has emerged as Asia's largest market for Western military hardware, also showed off a model of a French-designed Scorpene submarine due to join its naval fleet by 2011.

Thousands of troops from various services including elite commando units with machine guns guarded the fortified venue to prevent attacks by Kashmir's Islamist guerrillas who had vowed to disrupt the annual celebrations.

The Indian air force, the world's fourth largest, staged flypasts of its frontline Sukhoi-30 interceptor jets and Mirage-2000 multi-role fighter planes.

The technology-starved air force has said it wants to buy 126 fighter planes, with Lockheed Martin, the U.S. maker of the F-16, Sweden's Gripen and Russia's MiG vying for a deal which defense experts say could be worth more than six billion dollars.

Also on parade were colorful floats representing the 29 Indian states, and folk dancers in traditional costumes and elaborate headgear, watched by tens of thousands of people, many of whom walked several miles because of major traffic disruptions.

King Abdullah held talks with premier Singh Wednesday, before attending the Republic Day celebrations. He is currently on a four-day visit to New Delhi, as part of an Asian tour.

Delegations of the two countries signed four pacts on fighting terrorism, investment, taxation and cooperation in sports amid talks between the two leaders, during which they also discussed energy ties.

Meanwhile, Maoist rebels in eastern India and Kashmir's Islamic guerrillas called for a boycott of the anniversary celebrations.

In eastern Bihar and Jharkhand states, Maoist rebels bombed railway tracks and a police station, injuring one policeman and disrupting rail services.