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Clinton Visits India Tech Sector

March 23, 2000

JAIPUR, India (AP) _ President Clinton danced with women in a rural village Thursday and lucked out on a safari when he saw a Bengal tiger come close to pouncing on a deer.

The president said that at the request of wildlife experts, he would issue a plea for preservation of India’s endangered tigers against continued poaching. Twenty of the magnificent animals were lost last year, he said.

After high-level meetings and sightseeing through the week, the president concludes his Indian trip Friday by visiting a high-tech center and the financial capital of this struggling country.

The president leaves India with at least one regret: He followed the advice of White House advisers who, fearing embarrassing pictures, persuaded him not to ride on a painted elephant. ``I desperately wanted to ride on an elephant’s back,″ Clinton lamented later. ``I’ve always wanted to do it.″

Clinton avoided a run-in with frisky monkeys by surrendering the lei he was wearing around his neck. ``Once I was deflowered they didn’t pay attention to me,″ the president said with a laugh. ``I don’t mind these monkeys liking me but I don’t want to get 4,700 shots″ if they had bit him.

Clinton’s final day in India was opening in Hyderabad, a hub of India’s emerging high-tech industry with offices of Microsoft, Oracle, GE Capital and other American firms. The president was to visit a local clinic where children are immunized, and then turn his attention to technology. He ends the day in Bombay, India’s business center, his last stop before visiting Pakistan on Saturday.

On Thursday, Clinton went to the rural village of Nayla and heard stories of women battling for higher wages, education for girls, better social conditions and against forced marriages. One of their enterprises is a women-run milk cooperative that sells directly to a dairy, cutting out the middlemen.

``Awake women of my land. It’s time we empowered ourselves,″ they sang in Hindi.

``There was an edge to those women today,″ Clinton said admiringly later. ``They had something. It was special. They knew they’d done something that mattered.″

In courtyard outside a community center, the president joined the women in a traditional folk dance, trying to match them swaying and waving their hands. They showered Clinton with yellow and red flower petals that stuck in his hair and blanketed his shirt. ``It took me three hours to get them out,″ he said.

Clinton’s next stop was at a hilltop fortress _ Amber Fort _ which was built by a maharaja in the 16th century. The palace gateways were built high enough to let elephants pass _ and there were more than a dozen elephants, all painted in bright pastels, waiting for the president.

White House chief of staff John Podesta and press secretary Joe Lockhart counseled Clinton not to take an elephant ride _ but they did themselves when the media were distracted elsewhere by Clinton.

It was at the fort where Clinton ran into the monkeys, who scamper around the grounds. ``I see these monkeys and they’re all looking at me,″ the president said. He said he realized they wanted the flowers around his neck, so he obliged.

The president paused to inspect rugs and goods being sold by craftsmen. A sculptor showed a clay image of the president, topped with a turban.

From the fort, Clinton flew by helicopter to Ranthambhore National Forest Reserve, home to deer, crocodiles and other wildlife, but especially the endangered Bengal tiger. Clinton said he was told there were 16 in the park.

The president and his daughter Chelsea rode in an open bus that crept along dusty roadways to a watering hole where they came across a male tiger. He was sprawled in dry grass, about 20 feet away, watching the visitors.

``His name is Boomerang,″ the president recounted later. ``He’s the biggest tiger out there.″

Several hundred yards away, Clinton encountered his second tiger, a mother of three cubs, although they were not in sight. The president’s party got there in just in time for a wildlife drama.

``We pulled alongside this female tiger and she was like this,″ Clinton said, imitating a lion about to strike at a herd of deer. ``The tiger stalked around, walked around the bush. ... She literally missed getting one of the deer by about a second.″

Most of the herd fled but two deer went to opposite hills where they called out a warning of trouble.

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