Large crowds greet Myanmar leader in Sri Lankan city

ANURADHAPURA, November 14, 2009 (AFP) – Large flag-waving crowds greeted Myanmar’s junta leader General Than Shwe on Saturday as he toured an ancient city in north-central Sri Lanka on a religious pilgrimage. The crowds, clutching flags of Myanmar and Sri Lanka, lined the streets of the sacred Buddhist city of Anuradhapura to welcome the reclusive general, who has been on his first overseas visit since 2004.

Speaking through an interpreter, Than Shwe told the crowd: “I am happy to be here and I look forward to touring the Buddhist shrines.”

Heavy monsoon rains forced the general to travel by car rather than helicopter to the temple-studded city, delaying his arrival by five hours.

The general arrived in Colombo on Thursday with his wife, daughters and grandchildren on a religious pilgrimage to Sri Lanka.

The tropical island nation and Myanmar both practise Buddhism and have had cultural and religious ties since the 11th century.

Anuradhapura is a former Sinhalese royal capital and the site of the temple of the holy Bo tree, which was grown from a sapling from under which the Buddha found enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.

The junta leader, believed to be in his 7