President Ram Nath Kovind took time off from official business during his visit to the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus to go to the beach. The president strolled along the shore with his daughter at Fig Tree Bay, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, as a police helicopter and snipers maintained security, according to reports. One of the ministers accompanying Kovind took a dip in the turquoise waters of Fig Tree Bay – designated a Blue Flag beach because of its clear sea – reports said, without identifying the swimmer.
Twenty sunbeds were reserved for the Indian entourage although it was not immediately clear if any in the party took – or were afforded -- the opportunity to lounge around.
Away from the beach, Kovind held what were described as “wide-ranging” talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who said the two countries shared a vision of peace and democracy and historical bonds of friendship.
“The bonds between our countries stretch back to the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, following the end of India’s and Cyprus’ struggle against colonialism,” Anastasiades said.
During the visit, the two countries signed two memorandums of understanding – one on combatting money laundering and the other on the environment. Kovind, in an address to a special session of the House of Representatives, hailed the joint values and close relations between India and Cyprus.
“Cyprus is not only a friend but one of our staunchest supporters,” he said.
The president spoke glowingly of the friendship between late Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios and Mahatma Gandhi, while inviting Cypriots to invest in India.
“India has opened for business. It is open to Cyprus. Come and come quickly,” he said.
Kovind also laid a wreath at a bust of Mahatma Gandhi, which was installed at the legislature in 1972 during the visit of President V V Giri.
The three-day stop-over in Cyprus marks the first leg of Kovind’s three-nation tour of Europe, which will also take him to Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
On the final day of his visit on Tuesday, Kovind unveiled at the University of Cyprus a bust of eminent Indian poet and Nobel literature laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, before giving a lecture to students entitled “Youth, technology and ideas: shaping the contours of the 21st century.”
The president in his address told students that although technology has opened a new world of learning and has made it easier to accomplish tasks, they should continue to work hard without expectation of immediate reward in pursuit of excellence, the Cyprus Mail reported
Kovind said that Tagore’s bust will give students the opportunity to learn about the first non-European to win the Nobel prize in Literature.
“It will be a stimulus for discussion of literature, social sciences and the importance of culture in general,” he said.
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Kovind is the first Indian president to visit Cyprus since Pratibha Patil in 2009. It follows a visit last year to India by Anastasiades. Relations between the two countries go back to 1962, when they established diplomatic ties.
Bilateral trade is weighted heavily in India’s favour, with figures given by the Indian High Commission in Nicosia showing that Indian exports to Cyprus in 2015 totalled $51.11 million, and imports from Cyprus totalling $22.82 million. No more recent figures were immediately available.
Major items of exports from India include organic chemicals, oil seed, oleagi fruits, fish, vehicles and iron and steel. Imports from Cyprus include aluminium, wood pulp, machinery, boilers and plastics. The high commission listed Cyprus as the seventh largest FDI investor in India, mainly in the construction and real estate activity sectors.
On a personal front, Lilla Erulkar, daughter of Abraham Erulkar, an Indian-born Jew and personal physician to Mahatma Gandhi, became the first lady of Cyprus, married to Glafcos Clerides, who was Cypriot president between 1993 and 2003.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Cyprus in 1983 while Atal Bihari Vajpayee followed in 2002. President R Venkataraman also briefly visited the strategically-placed island in 1988.
There is no record of any of these illustrious leaders taking time off, as Kovind has, to enjoy Cyprus’s main attraction: its pristine beaches.