Sarkozy and wife Bruni hit tourist trail in India

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy took his glamorous wife Carla Bruni to the ancient Indian city of Fatehpur Sikri on Sunday, a day after a romantic sunset visit to the Taj Mahal.

The couple had altered their schedule to sneak in an evening tour of the white marble "monument to love" at dusk on Saturday -- a last-minute change of plan that Indian media said had caused local authorities a major headache.

The French president is on a four-day official visit to India, and on Sunday evening he and his wife travelled to the capital New Delhi to attend a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The couple's sight-seeing plans were not released by the president's office, and photographers and camera crews were kept away from the Taj Mahal.

Sarkozy last visited India in 2008, just before he married singer and former model Bruni, and he vowed then to return with her to see the Taj Mahal, located in the city of Agra 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Delhi.

"The cosy twosome reached the monument alone and spent nearly an hour with only two groups of French security men keeping a discreet watch from a distance," the Times of India reported Sunday.

"It was Bruni's first visit to the Taj and she seemed completely floored by what she saw."

The Times said the sudden decision to visit the Taj Mahal on Saturday evening rather than on Sunday, as scheduled, had caused friction at the 17th-century mausoleum.

It reported heated exchanges between officials and frustrated tourists who were either unable to enter or were hurriedly cleared out of the site shortly before the couple arrived.

Captain A.S. Tiwari, a senior state official in Agra, said Sarkozy and Bruni visited Fatehpur Sikri -- a UNESCO world heritage site 40 kilometres from the Taj Mahal -- on Sunday afternoon.

"We closed the area off from the public and have deployed at least 1,000 police personnel," he told AFP.

"Local people are anxious to get a glimpse of Carla, but we couldn't allow that because of the security measures."

Sarkozy began his Indian trip in the southern city of Bangalore, a major technology centre, where he reiterated France's support for India to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

He also welcomed cooperation in space that will lead the two countries to jointly launch satellites to monitor the climate and oceans next year, and expressed a desire for more Indians to study in France.

During talks with Prime Minister Singh in Delhi on Monday he is expected to lobby on behalf of French companies looking to do business in the fast-emerging country.

He completes his visit on Tuesday with a trip to Mumbai, India's commercial capital that was hit by Islamist militant attacks two years ago in which 166 people died.

© 2010 AFP

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