Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Feb 8: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in this temple town Friday evening for pilgrimage amid protests by Tamil groups.
He along with his family members arrived at Renigunta airport near here by a special aircraft and drove by road to the revered Balaji temple atop Tirumala Hills amid tight security, officials said.
Senior officials of the district administration and Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) accorded him a warm welcome.
Despite the massive security arrangements, protestors managed to reach close to the road route before the Sri Lankan president’s convoy passed. Police swung into action to arrest the protestors, who were raising slogans ‘Rajapaksa go back’.
Rajapaksa, who visited Bodh Gaya in Bihar in the morning, will be staying the night at TTD’s Sri Padmavathi Guest House and worship Lord Venkateswara in the early hours of Saturday.
According to temple officials, he will take part in the ‘Suprabhatha’ Seva at 3 a.m. Saturday. He will return to Renigunta airport and take off for Colombo at 9.30 a.m.
Earlier, police arrested hundreds of protestors in various parts of the town since morning. Prohibitory orders were imposed and police went on high alert ahead of Rajapaksa’s arrival.
The activists, who had arrived here from neighbouring Tamil Nadu to stall Rajapaksa’s visit, were arrested from Tirupati and at various places on Tamil Nadu-Andhra border.
Police arrested over 100 protestors at the railway stations and dozens of others at border points. A police officer said 26 activists of MDMK were arrested near Chittoor town when they were heading to Tirupati. A protestor demanded that the ‘killer’ of Tamils in the island nation should not be allowed to visit the sacred Hindu temple.
Security has been tightened across the town following intelligence reports that hundreds of protestors had already reached Tirupati in Chittoor district, about 50 km from the Tamil Nadu border and 135 km from Chennai.
Several Tamil organisations are opposing Rajapaksa’s visit as he has ruled out autonomy for Tamil areas in the island nation. They alleged that the Sri Lankan government had gone back on its promise.
Some activists were arrested when they arrived at the Tirupati railway station Friday morning. They were raising slogans against Rajapaksa’s visit. Some wall posters and banners have also come up in the town.
The slogan on one of the posters read: “Chase out destroyer of 2076 Hindu temples, killer of Hindu temple priests”.