NEW DELHI, Sept 18: India announced new rules on Saturday to enable several categories of visitors from Pakistan, including journalists and senior citizens, to get easier visas.

A spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry said the announcement was part of India's efforts the current process of thaw in India-Pakistan ties.

He said the measures are to take immediate effect. "Several measures for liberalization have already been taken in the recent past. The additional measures that would be immediately implemented."

They include the following:

(i) Accredited journalists with minimum 3 years accreditation with national or international media of repute could be issued multiple entry visas, without prior reference to headquarters, and with exemption from reporting to the police.

(ii) Academicians and professors, vice chancellors and those coming on the invitation of reputed/eminent universities and institutions could be issued multiple entry visas, without prior reference to headquarters, and with exemption from reporting to the police.

(iii) Medical doctors, if accompanying patients for treatment at leading/reputed hospitals in India, could be issued visas without prior reference to headquarters and with exemption from reporting to the police.

(iv) All Pakistan nationals above the age 65 could be granted visas with exemption from reporting to the police.

(v) Pakistani nationals could also be permitted to visit up to 12 places during each visit (as against the present three).

(vi) There will also be liberalization in issuing visas for participation in conferences.

"In order to take further the present process in India-Pakistan relations, mindful of humanitarian considerations and to facilitate people-to-people contact, the Government has decided to further liberalize visas for Pakistan nationals," the spokesman said.

"These are unilateral measures taken by the Government of India to promote people-to-people contacts with Pakistan. Naturally, we hope that the Government of Pakistan would also be able to take similar measures," he said in response to a question.

Pakistani officials declined to comment on the Indian move, but said they were already exmpting all Indian journalists from the police reporting requirement.

Analysts note that the move came a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to board the flight to New York for his first meeting with President Gen Pervez Musharraf and US President George Bush.

FO: Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan on Saturday said the latest Indian steps regarding facilitation for issuance of visas for Pakistanis are positive, adds APP.

Talking to PTV, he said: "We will thoroughly examine these steps while consulting the concerned departments and then give response on this."

He said, obviously Indian government has already completed this process of consultation for visa facilitation.

Mr Khan said: "We appreciate the spirit behind these steps which is for the promotion of people to people contact of both the countries."

Foreign Office spokesman said, if the announced steps were taken up during the meeting of foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, then up to now some development could have taken place on the issue.