NEW DELHI: US President Barack Obama will cancel a planned trip to the Taj Mahal, cutting short his visit to India to travel to Saudi Arabia following King Abdullah's death, the White House said Saturday.
“President Obama and the First Lady will travel to Riyadh on Tuesday, January 27 in order to pay respects to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the family of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest in a statement.
Obama was scheduled to go to India's famed monument to love with First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday, at the end of a three-day visit to the country.
Hundreds of cleaners had been hired to spruce up the white marbled mausoleum in preparation for their arrival. Earlier the Hindustan Times website had cited unnamed Indian officials as saying Obama was cutting his India visit short to fly to Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah.
The Hindu website had carried a similar report, quoting a government source as saying: "It's possible that he might leave India earlier".
Obama will hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and become the first serving US president to be guest of honour at the Republic Day parade during his second visit to India since taking office. Analysts say the invitation to attend Monday's Republic Day celebrations emphasises a new closeness between the world's two largest democracies.
In an interview published Friday, Obama said “the stars are aligned” to enable the United States and India to forge a global partnership.
The cancellation of the Taj Mahal visit would deprive the country's top tourist attraction of publicity at a time when the government is trying to boost visitor numbers.
Twitter users rushed to thank the president for orchestrating a clean-up of the mausoleum in the town of Agra, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved empress who died during childbirth in 1631.
Take a look at: India clears cows, dogs, dust for Obama's Taj Mahal trip
“It was just Obama's clever plan to get Agra cleaned up. Thank you Obama, “posted one under the name Anamika.