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India, Russia lay foundation of future character of strategic partnership

India and Russia on Thursday agreed on several steps to lay the foundation of the future character of their strategic relationship, including in areas such as defence manufacturing, civil nuclear energy and hydrocarbons.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit, at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 24, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit, at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 24, 2015.
India and Russia today agreed on several steps to lay the foundation of the future character of their strategic relationship, including in areas such as defence manufacturing, civil nuclear energy and hydrocarbons.
 
"As I look to the future, I see Russia as a significant partner in India’s economic transformation and in shaping a balanced, stable, inclusive and a multi-polar world," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the 16th Annual India-Russia Summit at the Kremlin.
 
Mr. Modi first met Mr. Putin in the restricted format for some time before the two sides held delegation-level talks over a working lunch, official sources said. Mr. Putin had hosted Mr. Modi for a tete-e-tete at the Kremlin here yesterday evening.
 
"We have had excellent conversations over the past two days and very productive outcomes. It has deepened my conviction that this relationship truly meets the test of a special and privileged strategic partnership," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said the Inter-Governmental Agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India signed today was the first project for a major defence platform under the Make in India mission. 
 
"It is rightly with our most important defence partner. We have made progress on a number of other defence proposals. These would boost defence manufacturing in India and India's defence readiness with next generation equipment," he said.
 
"The pace of our cooperation in nuclear energy is increasing. We are making progress on our plans for twelve Russian nuclear reactors at two sites. The agreement today will increase Indian manufacturing content in these reactors. It supports my mission of Make in India. I thank President Putin for his support," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said that, with one of the world’s largest reserves of hydrocarbons, Russia could be a critical source of energy security for India, especially because of their strategic partnership. 
 
"With President Putin's support, we are enlarging Indian investments in Russian hydrocarbon sector. 
 
"President Putin and I are moving creatively in expanding our economic relations. Following our last Summit, India has created a special notified zone to facilitate direct trade between the world’s largest uncut diamond exporter, Russia, and India, which processes 90% of the world’s uncut diamond," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said the two sides were working on logistics, and their Green Corridor project had taken off. He said the International North South Transit Corridor through Iran would significantly reduce transportation time and cost.
 
"Third, we are moving forward on the India-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. This will also benefit us in Central Asia.
 
"Fourth, we are encouraging our private sector to connect with each other more. We have just had an excellent meeting of CEO Forum. The agreements and the announcements today give me confidence that we will see huge increase in investments and trade in both directions," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi began his statement by expressing his deepest condolences on the lives in the terrorist attack on a civilian Russian aircraft and in the downing of a military jet in Syria.
 
"In this moment of grief and challenge, we stand in solidarity with the people of Russia," he said.
 
He said Mr. Putin was the architect of the India-Russia strategic partnership and, in a changing world, his leadership had kept bilateral relations on a steady course of progress and growth.
 
"Mr. President, I have always had great respect and appreciation for our strategic partnership. It has been a source of strength and success for India in defence, development and diplomacy. And, there is genuine goodwill and mutual respect between our people.
 
"President Putin and I have a high degree of convergence in our positions on global issues and a strong commitment to deepen our international cooperation," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said the two sides had strong collaboration in the United Nations. 
 
"Our membership of BRICS, East Asia Summit, G20 and now Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gives our partnership a global character. It is particularly important in the arc from Eurasia to Asia Pacific, including in Central Asia and Afghanistan. 
 
"We are one in our belief that the world must unite and take concerted action on combating terrorism, without distinction and discrimination between terrorist groups and target countries," he said.
 
He said both sides agreed that an early political settlement through dialogue in West Asia was essential for restoring stability and containing extremism in the region.
 
"Indeed, all nations must come together, with sensitivity to each other, to address the challenges of our times.
 
"I am very pleased to have deepened my association with President Putin. Together, we have also given new direction and added more momentum and content to our strategic partnership.
 
"Just as I have had the pleasure of visiting Russia twice this year, I look forward to welcoming President Putin in India next year for the BRICS Summit as well as the Annual Summit," he added.
 
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A joint statement issued by the two sides said Mr. Modi and Mr. Putin had held extensive and substantive discussions to review progress in bilateral relations since the last Annual Summit and their meeting on the margins of the BRICS Summit in Ufa in July 2015. 
 
"The interactions between the two Leaders were marked by deep warmth and mutual trust that characterize the special and privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India," it said.
 
The two sides signed several agreements in diverse fields of bilateral cooperation, including several commercial agreements between Russian and Indian companies.
 
The reconfirmed their commitment to realize the target set at the last annual summit to increase annual bilateral trade and investment.
 
Both sides reiterated their assessment that Mr. Modi's "Make in India” initiative provided a new and durable framework for engagement by Russian corporate entities in the fast growing Indian economy as well as noted the efforts made by the Indian Government to improve ease of doing business.
 
They welcomed recent announcement of several major bilateral investment proposals and called on companies in both countries to finalize new and ambitious investment proposals in promising sectors such as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, mining, machine building, implementation of infrastructure projects, cooperation in railway sector, fertilizer production, automobiles and aircraft construction as well as collaborative ventures in modernizing each other's industrial facilities.
 
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar are among those who are part of Mr. Modi's delegation.
 
Earlier in the day, Mr. Modi, who arrived here yesterday on his first bilateral visit to Russia, visited the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) here, where officials briefed him on its functioning.
 
Mr. Modi also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier here today.
 
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Not just paas-paas, but also saath-saath, Modi tells Bangladesh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that, even as his two-day visit to Bangadesh was drawing to a close, the real journey was beginning only now and the world would see that the two countries were not just "paas-paas" (near to each other) but also "saath-saath" (together).

 
Journey for us has just begun, Modi tells Bangladesh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said that, even as his two-day visit to Bangadesh was drawing to a close, the real journey was beginning only now and the world would see that the two countries were not just "paas-paas" (near to each other) but also "saath-saath" (together).
 
Addressing a gathering comprising eminent Bangladeshis, including politicians, cultural figures, business persons, academicians and Dhaka University students, as well as members of the Indian community, he said the welcome accorded to him was, in effect, a welcome to 125 crore Indians.
 
He said he was especially happy that a Mukti Jodha President, in the presence of the Bangabandhu's daughter, had presented the Bangladesh Liberation War honour to former Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which he had the honour to receive on behalf of the veteran leader.
 
He said that as a young man, his first exposure to politics was in the form of a satyagrahi in support of the liberation struggle in Bangladesh. 
 
Mr Modi said the world rarely noticed developing countries. He said Bangladesh had had to often face natural disasters. But nevertheless, he said, Bangladesh had done unparalleled work in many fields. He said the work done by Bangladesh in the garment sector is well appreciated. He said that he was happy to hear this on a recent visit to China, for the fact that a developing country had achieved such a feat. He said that if Bangladesh prospers, India too would benefit. 
 
The Prime Minister said many states in India could learn from Bangladesh on several social indicators, such as infant mortality rate. He said when Bangladesh progresses, India feels proud, because Indian soldiers too have shed blood for the birth of the country.
 
Mr Modi congratulated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her single-minded focus on economic development. He said a firm foundation is being laid for Bangladesh's economic progress. 
 
He said India and Bangladesh were both blessed to be young nations, with young dreams. He said a nation with such leadership and such strength, like Bangladesh, would progress inexorably. 
 
The Prime Minister said the era of expansionism in geopolitics had ended. He said the world now needs vikaswaad (development), not vistaarwaad (expansionism). 
 
Referring to the Land Boundary Agreement between the two countries, he described it as one which bonded hearts together. 
 
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Mr Modi said both India and Bangladesh wanted to establish the Buddhist circuit - and where there was Buddha, there could be no Yuddha (war). He quoted a newspaper editorial that said that the Land Boundary Agreement was equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He said the world would have to acknowledge that they were people who find ways to move ahead. 
 
He said the younger generation deserved the chance to achieve its aspirations. He appreciated the contribution of the Dhaka University to Bangladesh. He said that India would work with Dhaka University on oceanography, to build the ocean economy. 
 
The Prime Minister said SAARC countries were keen to establish connectivity at the last SAARC summit - but then - not every country is Bangladesh. He said India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan had now decided to move ahead in this direction. He said the European Union had developed a lot because of better connectivity. He said today no country could work alone, as the whole world has become interdependent. He said India and Bangladesh had recognized this fact, and this was reflected in the 22 agreements that had been signed during his visit. He congratulated the farsighted leadership of Bangladesh for accomplishing this. 
 
Mr Modi said a satellite picture would reveal that the SAARC countries were still dark - had no access to electricity. He said if India Nepal Bhutan and Bangladesh worked together, this darkness would be dispelled. He said recently Bangladesh helped India transport equipment for a power plant in Tripura, and now Bangladesh was receiving 100 MW of power from that power plant. 
 
He spoke of shared potential in sectors such as solar energy and space. 
 
Mr Modi noted that Bangladesh had done a lot for women empowerment and that it was a matter of pride. He recalled billboards in Dhaka featuring the woman cricket player, Salma Khatun. He added that the rise of the Bangladesh cricket team reflects the potential of Bangladesh. He said that he was proud that he had come to walk together with this Bangladesh. 
 
The Prime Minister acknowledged that some tasks were still to be accomplished. He said he believed that panchhi (birds), pawan (wind), and paani (water) needed no visa - and therefore - the Teesta issue had to be solved with a human approach. 
 
Referring to unfortunate incidents on the border, he said it was the responsibility of both sides to ensure that a solution is found. He said illegal human trafficking and fake currency were issues which Bangladesh had expressed an intention to resolve. 
 
Mr Modi called for reform of the United Nations. He said India still had not got a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. He said this was a country which never fought to gain land. He said 75,000 Indian soldiers had sacrificed their lives for others in the First World War, and 90,000 in the Second World War. He referred to India's role in peacekeeping operations across the world. He said Indian soldiers had fought alongside Mukti Jodhas as well, for Bangladesh. Yet India had still not got a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. 
 
Referring to the Pakistani prisoners of war after the 1971 war, he said India released 90,000 soldiers, because it was only interested in the welfare and progress of Bangladesh. He said this incident, in itself should have been enough to convince the world that India should get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. 
 
Mr Modi said that on the first day itself, his Government had invited SAARC leaders, indicating its intention to progress together with SAARC.  
 
He said he was happy that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh had declared zero tolerance for terrorism. He said terrorism was the  enemy of humanity, and therefore all humanitarian forces had to unite to fight it. 
 
Mr Modi said his vision and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's vision matched perfectly - that of development. 
 
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India, Mongolia agree to upgrade ties to Strategic Partnership, renew friendship treaty

India and Mongolia on Sunday decided to upgrade their relationship to a "Strategic Partnership", in a reflection of their commitment to further deepen their ties, and also agreed to renew their Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation.

 
Modi meets his Mongoolian counterpart Chimed Saikhanbileg in Ulaanbaatar
 
 
India and Mongolia today decided to upgrade their relationship to a "Strategic Partnership", in a reflection of their commitment to further deepen their ties, and also agreed to renew their Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation.
 
"So, at a significant milestone in our relationship, we are starting a new era in our partnership," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a joint media interaction with his Mongolian counterpart Chimed Saikhanbileg in Ulaanbaatar after the two leaders met for bilateral talks.
 
"We will take our economic partnership to a new level," he said, announcing a $ 1 billion line of credit to support expansion of Mongolia's economic capacity and infrastructure.
 
Mr Modi said Mongolia was an integral part of India's Act East Policy and that the destinies of the two countries were closely linked with the future of the Asia Pacific Region.
 
"We can work together to help advance peace, stability and prosperity in this region. So, I am also here in commitment to our shared responsibility to our region," he said.
 
"I was very pleased with my discussions with Prime Minister today. We have strong convergence of views on bilateral relations and our regional and international partnership," he said.
 
Mr Modi said the agreements signed by the two countries -- covering economic relations, development partnership, defence and security, and people-to-people contacts -- spoke to the depth of the relationship.
 
Mr Modi reached Ulaanbaatar yesterday evening from Shanghai on the second leg of a six-day three-nation tour that had earlier taken him to China and will later take him to South Korea.
 
This is the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Mongolia. "It is a special privilege to come on the occasion of two important milestones that unite us – 25 years of democracy in Mongolia and 60 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries," he said.
 
Mr Modi began the day with a visit to the historic Gandan Monastery, where he handed over a sapling of the Mahabodhi Tree as a token of friendship from the people of India.
 
"I am here in respect and appreciation for our timeless kinship. You have called us your spiritual neighbour and third neighbour. We will always fulfil the responsibility that comes with this honour," he said.
 
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Stressing that supporting development of human resources is the best way to secure a nation's development, he reiterated India's commitment to continue its efforts in Mongolia. India will increase the ITEC training slots for Mongolia from 150 to 200. It will also establish an India-Mongolia Joint School, he said.
 
Apart from addressing the Mongolian Parliament later in the day, Mr Modi will lay the foundation stone for the expansion and upgrading of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Center of Excellence for Information and Communication Technology. He will also visit the National Cancer Centre to gift Bhabhatron II. It is a state-of-the-art nuclear medicine cancer therapy machine, developed and manufactured in India. 
 
Mr Modi said India attached high priority to security cooperation between the two countries. "We will continue to participate in each other's defence exercises. The agreements today will deepen our cooperation in border security and cyber security. Cooperation between National Security Councils will provide a strategic framework for cooperation. We have also agreed that India will help establish a cyber security centre in Mongolia’s defence and security establishment," he said.
 
Describing bilateral trade and investment relations as modest, he said both sides recognized that there are physical limitations. 
 
"But, we agreed that economic growth in our two countries is opening up new opportunities. There is huge potential in civil nuclear sector, mining, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and dairy. We should also explore the possibilities of using digital technology to expand our economic relations," he said.
 
Mr Modi conveyed to Mr Saikhanbileg that India greatly valued their international partnership, which is based on their friendship, shared spiritual heritage and democratic values. These also provide solid foundation for their cooperation in their region, he said.
 
He also expressed India's sincere appreciation for Mongolia's strong support for India's permanent membership of United Nations Security Council. 
 
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Modi reaches Xian at start of China visit, will have summit meeting with Xi Jinping

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Xian, the home town of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in China on Thursday morning at the start of a six-day three-nation tour that will also take him to Mongolia and South Korea.

 
Modi reaches Xian at start of China visit
 
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Xian, the home town of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in China this morning at the start of a six-day three-nation tour that will also take him to Mongolia and South Korea.
 
Mr Modi was greeted on arival at the Xian Xiangyang International Airport by senior Chinese and Indian officials as well as groups of small children and traditional dancers, who staged a performance to welcome him.
 
This is Mr Modi's fist visit to China as Prime Minister though he has been there earlier as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
 
The Prime Minister will have his summit meeting with President Xi this afternoon and will also visit some places associated with Chinese history and civilisation before travelling to Beijing late in the evening today.
 
In Beijing, he will be formally welcomed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang tomorrow. The two leaders will hold talks tomorrow and later witness the signing of a number of agreements between the two sides, which is expected to be attended by Chief Ministers and Mayors, both Indian and Chinese.
 
There will also be some cultural evens, including a Yoga-Tai Chi joint event at the Temple of Heaven.
 
Mr Modi will then travel to Shanghai, where will interact with CEOs of Chinese companies and address a business gathering. Some business agreements are expected to be signed during the trip.
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He will also visit the Fudan University and inaugurate a Centre for Gandhian Studies there.
 
During the visit, Mr Modi will deliver one public address at the Tsinghua University in Beijing and address a community function in Shanghai.
 
Briefing journalists about the visit here on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had said that the two sides would discuss a full range of political issues during the visit, including bilateral ties, regional issues and multilateral issues. Economic issues, including those related to trade, investment and collaboration on infrastructure projects, will also come up for discussion.
 
The talks are also expected to cover people-to-people contact related issues such as tourism, travel and local level contacts, he said.
 
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Modi invites German companies to take advantage of "historic opportunity" in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday invited German companies to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" presented for them by his Government's Make in India campaign and said he was committed to creating and improving the business environment in India.

 
Modi invites German investment, assures all support
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today invited German companies to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" presented for them by his Government's Make in India campaign and said he was committed to creating and improving the business environment in India.
 
"I can assure you that once you decide to be in India, we are confident to make you comfortable," he said in his address at the Indo-German Business Summit in Hannover today, which was jointly inaugurated by him and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 
Earlier, the two leaders had jointly opened the India Pavilion at Hannover Messe, at which India is the partner country this year. They also walked around the pavilion and met the various participants there. Ms Merkel had hosted a working dinner for him last night, over which they had a "very good interaction".
 
In his address, Mr Modi dwelt at length on the direction and the steps being taken by his Government for the development of India.
 
He said the visitors to the fair could see for themselves the winds of change blowing in India.
 
"We are very keen to develop the sectors where you are strong. We need your involvement. The scope and potential, the breadth and length of infrastructure and related developments is very huge in India," he said.
 
He went on to give the examples of some of the programmes, such as the plan to build 50 millin houses by 2022 and to develop smart cities and mega industrial corridors.
 
"For this purpose, we have refined our FDI Policy in construction. We have also come up with a regulatory framework for this sector," he said.
 
He said the Government had targeted 175 giga watt of renewable energy in the next few years. In addition to generation, the issues of transmission and distribution of electricity are equally important, he said.
 
He said plans had been drawn up to modernize the Railway systems, including signals, and railway stations. He said metro rail networks were planned in 50 cities and high speed trains in various corridors. Similar plans are being drawn up for highways, he said.
 
He said new ports were being built and old ones modernized through the ambitious Sagarmala scheme. He said similar focus was being given for upgrading existing airports and putting up regional airports to enhance connectivity to places of economic and tourist importance.
 
"In financial services too, we are moving towards a more inclusive and faster delivery of financial products including bank loans and insurance. For this purpose, we opened 140 million bank accounts; increased FDI in insurance upto 49% and have set up MUDRA Bank. 
 
"We also announced innovative schemes for insurance and pension to enhance social security for our citizens. 
 
"We also want to promote manufacturing in a big way particularly to create jobs for our youth," he said.
 
He said Germany ranked eighth among foreign investor countries in India. About 600 Indo-German Joint ventures are presently operating in India. 
 
"The purpose of my being here and participating in the Hannover Fair is to highlight that there is more potential in Indo-German economic collaboration. Though we have a vibrant relationship, our economic partnership is not as much as both countries would like to have. The flow of investments from Germany is well below the potential and less than Indian investments in Germany. 
 
"Many more German companies have the possibility of investing in India to take advantage of India’s potentials. The potential lies in manufacturing as well as infrastructure and in skill development for that purpose. I know that the reason for this situation may not be from German side. It is from the Indian side also," he said.
 
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Mr Modi assured German companies that India was now a changed country. "Our regulatory regime is much more transparent, responsive and stable. We are taking a long-term and futuristic view on the issues. Lot of efforts have been made and are still underway to improve the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the country," he said.
 
"Reducing the complicated procedures, making them available at one platform, preferably online, simplifying the forms and formats has been taken up on war footing. Definite mechanisms for hand holding have been set up in the form of hub and spoke. Invest India is the nodal agency for this purpose," he said.
 
"We do believe that FDI is important and it will not come in the country without a globally competitive business environment. Therefore, in this year's budget we have rationalized a number of issues which were bothering you," he sid.
 
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Mr Modi said that the Government had, in particular, removed lot of regressive taxation regimes. 
 
"In our very first Budget, we said we will not resort to retrospective taxation. And if such issues do arise, they will have to be reviewed at the highest level. We have taken bold steps of not dragging the litigation in a few cases where we felt that the steps of the previous government were not on right lines. 
 
"In this budget, we allowed Tax pass through for AIFs, rationalization of capital gains of REITs, modification in PE norms and deferring the implementation of GAAR for two years. We are constantly working to improve the business environment further," he said.
 
He said the Government was trying to introduce an element of transparency and predictability in taxation system. He said it had fast tracked approvals in industry and infrastructure. This includes environmental clearances, extending the industrial licences, delicencing of defence items, and simplification of cross-border trade. 
 
"Within a very short time, we introduced GST Bill in Parliament. Such measures have helped in building up an enhanced investor confidence. The sentiments for private investment and inflow of foreign investments are positive. FDI inflows have gone up by 36% during April-2014 and January-2015 against the same period in previous year," he said.
 
Mr Modi said India's growth rate was about 7%-plus. "Most of the international financial institutions including the World Bank, IMF, UNCTAD, OECD and others are predicting even faster growth and even better in the coming years. Moody’s have recently upgraded the rating of India as 'positive' on account of our concrete steps in various economic segments," he said.
 
He also spoke of his Government's efforts to encourage innovation, research & development and entrepreneurship in the country.
 
On infrastructure development, he outlined the steps taken, including an all-time high allocaiton for roads and railways.
 
In addition, we are setting up India Infrastructure Investment Fund. We have also allowed Tax free Bonds in the Infrastructure sector including roads and railways," he added.
 
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Modi reaches Hannover, invites German CEOs to invest in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Hannover in Germany on Sunday on the second leg of his three-nation tour and went straight into meetings with CEOs of major German companies to invite them to participate in his government's Make in India initiative.

 
Indian expats greet Modi at Maritim Grand Hotel in Hannover
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Hannover in Germany on Sunday on the second leg of his three-nation tour and went straight into meetings with CEOs of major German companies to invite them to participate in his government's Make in India initiative.
 
Mr Modi was received on arrival at the Langenhagen Airport in Hannover by Mr Michael Steiner, German Ambassador to India, and other senior officials from both countries.
 
Later, large numbers of members of the Indian community greeted Mr Modi on his arrval at the Maritim Grand Hotel in the city.
 
With business high on his agenda, Mr Modi went into the meeting with CEOs soon after his arrival. Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was also present at the meeting.
 
"Business is 1st in order of priority. PM @narendramodi assisted by @CimGOI engages with German business leaders," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
"Movers & shakers of German economy/industry meet with PM @narendramodi," he said.
 
"Thank you France! Substantial ground was covered during my visit. Thankful to French Govt & people. Will always cherish the enthusiasm," Mr Modi had said earlier on Twitter as he left France after a two-day visit during which he had held talks with French President Francois Hollande.
 
Mr Modi will leave from Germany on April 14 for a two-day visit to Canada on the third and final leg of his eight-day, three-nation tour.
 
India is the partner country at the Hannover Messe, the Hannover Fair, this year and there is a large presence of Indian companies there this time.
 
India has taken about 7000 square metres of space at the fair, including a central pavilion of 1200 sq m and about 400 Indian companies are displaying their products and services at the event. About 120 Indian CEOs are expected to be present.
 
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Later today, Mr Modi will visit the City Hall and thereafter unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Hannover.
 
He will be present at the opening of the Hannover Fair this evening by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will later host a working dinner for him.
 
Tomorrow morning, Mr Modi and Ms Merkel will jointly inaugurate the Indian pavilion at the fair, after which they will walk about the Central Pavilion and then inaugurate and address an India-Germany Business Summit.
 
Later tomorrow, Mr Modi will leave for Berlin, where he will visit the Siemens Technical Academy, a leader in vocational education. Later, he will meet Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of Germany who is also the Minister of Economics and Energy. That will be followed by a community reception in the evening.
 
On April 14, Mr Modi will have a call on him by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Following this, there will be a ceremonial welcome by Chancellor Merkel at the Federal Chancellery. Ms Merkel will host a working lunch for him, over which they will have their talks, followed by their formal statements.
 
Before leaving for Ottawa, Mr Modi will visit a German railway station.
 
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US Court dismisses indictment against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade

In a major relief for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest in New York in December 2013 sparked off a major row between India and the United States, a US Court on Wednesday dismissed the indictment against her on the ground of diplomatic immunity.

Devyani Khobragade
Devyani Khobragade
In a major relief for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest here in December 2013 sparked off a major row between India and the United States, a US Court on Wednesday dismissed the indictment against her on the ground of diplomatic immunity.
 
"Khobragade's conditions of bail are terminated, and her bond is exonerated. It is ordered that any open arrest warrants based on this Indictment must be vacated. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this motion (Dkt. No. 15) and this case," Judge Shira A Sheindlin of the US District Court of Southern New York said.
 
Ms Khobragade, 39, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer of the 1999 batch, was the Deputy Consul General of India in New York when she was arrested on December 12, 2013 but the Government of India later, on January 8, 2014 transferred her to the Permanent Mission of India (PMI) to the United Nations here to enable her to get full diplomatic immunity. She later flew back to India after being accorded full diplomatic immunity.
 
She had been indicted by a jury on January 9, 2014 on charges of visa fraud and making false statements related to the salary paid by her to her India-based domestic help, Sangeeta Richard, also an Indian.
 
She was, among other things, accused of paying her help much less than promised to her and of filing false documents showing that she was being paid the minimum wages due to her under US laws.
 
According to Indian officials, Ms Khobragade was arrested in front of her daughter while dropping her off at school, handcuffed, strip-searched and held in a cell with hardened criminals.
 
The court noted that Ms Khobragade had, from October 26, 2012 to January 8, 2014 served in a position that cloaked her with consular immunity pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. 
 
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Ms Khobragade had contended that she additionally obtained diplomatic immunity on August 26, 2013 by virtue of another appointment as Special Adviser to the United Nations, and that such immunity continued through at least December 31, 2013.
 
The US Government denied that Ms Khobragade ever had diplomatic immunity as a Special Adviser, and alternately argued that any period 
of diplomatic immunity ended well before December 2013.
 
The US Government had also questioned her entitlement to bring her motion for dismissal of the indictment against her in light of the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, which "bars a defendant from invoking the authority of this Court while simultaneously evading it." 
 
The Court pointed out in this regard that it had expressly modified Ms 
Khobragade's conditions of bail to permit her return to India, she could not be  deemed to have evaded the authority of the Court.
 
The court noted that there was no dispute that Ms Khobragade's position as a Deputy Consul  General at the Indian consulate rendered her a consular officer within the terms of the VCCR. The court also said it was undisputed that she acquired full diplomatic immunity at 5:47 PM on January 8, 2014, and did not lose that immunity until her departure from the country on the evening of January 9, 2014.20 
 
On January 9, immediately following the return of the Indictment, Ms Khobragade appeared before the court through counsel and moved to dismiss the case.
 
The prosecution argued that the indictment should not be dismissed because she did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest and had no immunity at the present time.
 
In support, the US Government submitted a declaration from Mr Steven Kerr, Attorney-Advisor in the Office ofthe Legal Advisor of the United States Department of State. Mr Kerr concluded that "Dr. Khobragade did not enjoy immunity from arrest or detention at the time of her arrest in this case, and she does not presently enjoy immunity from prosecution for the crimes 
charged in the Indictment."
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The court held that, even assuming Mr Kerr's conclusions to be correct, the case must be dismissed based on Ms Khobragade's conceded immunity on January 9,2014. 
 
"The fact that Khobragade lost full diplomatic immunity when she left the country does not cure the lack of jurisdiction when she was indicted. Courts in civil cases have dismissed claims against individuals who had diplomatic immunity at an earlier stage of proceedings, even if they no longer possessed immunity at the time dismissal was sought. These courts reasoned that the lack of jurisdiction at the time of the relevant procedural acts, such as service of process, rendered those acts void. Because Khobragade moved to dismiss on January 9,2014, the motion must be decided in reference to her diplomatic status on that date. 
 
"Similarly, Khobragade's status at the time of her arrest is not determinative. The State Department has explained that 'criminal immunity precludes the exercise of jurisdiction by the courts over an individual whether the incident occurred prior to or during the period in which such immunity exists.'
 
"Furthermore, several courts have held that diplomatic immunity acquired during the pendency of proceedings destroys jurisdiction even if the suit was validly commenced before immunity applied," the court said.
 
The court noted that the precedent cited by it involved civil claims rather than criminal charges. "However, the Government has not cited any criminal case in which immunity was acquired after arrest, and the Court is not aware of any such case," it said, adding that the precedent was persuasive, given that the standard for dismissing criminal and civil cases based on diplomatic immunity is the same.
 
"Furthermore, because diplomatic immunity is a jurisdictional bar, it is logical to dismiss proceedings the moment immunity is acquired. Even if Khobragade had no immunity at the time of her arrest and has none now, her acquisition of immunity during the pendency of proceedings mandates dismissal.
 
"The Court has no occasion to decide whether the acts charged in the 
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Indictment constitute 'official acts' that would be protected by residual immunity. However, if the acts charged in the Indictment were not 'performed in the exercise of official functions', then there is currently no bar to a new indictment against Khobragade," it said.
 
The Court said that Ms Khobragade had conceded that "[t]he prosecution is clearly legally able to seek a new indictment at this time or at some point in the future now that [she] no longer possesses diplomatic status and immunity ...."
 
"However, the Government may not proceed on an Indictment obtained when Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the Court," it said.
 
The arrest of Ms Khobragade had evoked strong reactions in India, including a slew of measures by the Government reducing the privileges enjoyed by US diplomats in the country.
 
Among other things, the Government asked the US mission to return the identity cards issued to all its consular officers posted in India, to review the immunity and benefits enjoyed them.
 
The Government also asked the Delhi Police to remove all traffic barricades near the US Embassy in Chanakyapuri in Delhi.
 
It is also learnt to have asked the US mission to provide it with details of visas, salaries and so on of all teachers at US schools to ascertain whether all Indian laws were being followed in their cases.
 
The Government also withdrew all airport passes for consulates and import clearances for the Embassy as part of measures aimed at ensuring reciprocity in matters of diplomatic immunity.
 
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India to achieve double-digit growth in five years: Mukherjee

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that it was entirely possible that India would break into double-digit growth within the next five years.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US INDIA CEOs Forum Meeting in Washington, DC on June 22, 2010. Also seen is Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US INDIA CEOs Forum Meeting in Washington, DC on June 22, 2010. Also seen is Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that he is optimistic about India's long-run growth prospects and that it was entirely within the realm of the possible that the country would break into double-digit growth within the next five years.


Addressing the India-US CEO Forum in Washington on Tuesday, Mr Mukherjee said the recovery from the global economic crisis for India seemed to be on a surer footing.


"The Indian economy has done exceedingly well in these difficult times through a combination of careful policymaking, dynamic industrial leadership and luck. Last quarter our GDP grew at 8.6% and this year my Ministry has predicated a growth rate of 8.5%," he said.


"I notice that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) has recently challenged our prediction. For once, however, I am not going to argue with the IMF. The IMF believes that the Indian economy will grow by 8.8%!" he remarked.


The India-US CEO Forum was reconstituted last year with 12 CEOs from India and the United States nominated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama, repectively.


This was the second meeting of the Forum, the first having been held in November last year on the sidelines of Dr Singh's visit to Washington. It is co-chaired by Mr Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons and Dave Cote, CEO of Honeywell Corporation.


Yesterday's meeting was attended by eight CEOs from each side. There was very high level government participation from both sides reflecting the importance attached by both Governments.


Apart from Mr Mukherjee, those attending the meeting from India included Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. From the US side, there were six Secretary-level representatives, who included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.


Mr Mukherjee told the Forum that India today saved and invested around 34 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and this was still rising. He said India's growth was coming not just from Government action but from a variety of sectors and stakeholders from all over the economy, including the private corporate sector. "To me, this multiple source growth is a sign of robustness," he said.


He said a significant part of India’s growth impulse was from the rural sector which had been prioritized in the country's developmental plans for inclusive growth. He said the focus was on innovation with a broader outreach at the grassroots level and engaging medium-sized companies in the US and India in the development process.


The Finance Minister said India offered investment opportunities in excess of $ 850 billion over the next five years. In the infrastructure sector, it envisaged investment at $ 1 trillion between 2012-13 and 2016-17, with a potential funding gap of 25-30% bridged through innovative modes of financing, he said.


He said efforts were being made to make the Government more efficient, transparent, and in step with the modern world. He metioned the draft Direct Tax Code in this context. He said he was committed to bring down the public debt as a percentage of GDP from the current level of around 75% to below 68% in three years.


Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee with US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner in Washington, DC on June 22, 2010.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee with US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner in Washington, DC on June 22, 2010.

"India’s fiscal health is good now and this new target will make it even better. It will also make more room for private sector borrowing and investment. Our ultimate aim is to make India a vibrant economy that attracts global capital and trade," he said.


Mr Mukherjee said the relationship with the US was one of the most important bilateral relationships for India today.


"As India pursues its developmental goals, we would like to work with the US – especially where our priorities converge, to realize outcomes that are to the mutual benefit of our peoples. We have a unique advantage which is the existence of strongest possible people-to-people linkages that any bilateral strategic partnership could wish for. We have, in our Strategic Dialogue, innovation as the principle that should guide our work ahead," he said.


He said the CEOs Forum had established itself as a bridge between the private sectors and the Governments of India and the US.


"With your leadership and vision, you have created synergies that are invaluable. The initiative to take this strong economic partnership to a new level of innovation and sustained growth is indeed welcome," he said.


"I am sure that the dynamism and energy of our private sectors and the public-private partnerships that we envision will help to take our cooperation and achievement to unprecedented heights," he said.


Mr Mukherjee said the trust that India had built up through its 100% compliance record in the safeguarding of imported technology should help it to increase its bilateral high technology trade.


"I am aware that this is presently under discussion and I would only underline that India has a record of being a trusted a customer. I am sure that our Governments should be able to work together to create the conditions for a win-win situation in advance technology trade between our two countries," he sad.


He noted the two countries had launched the Financial and Economic Partnership when Secretary Geithner visited Delhi in April this year to strengthen engagement in economic, financial and investment related issues.


He said the two countries were currently negotiating a Bilateral Investment Treaty and were committed to take further initiatives that would contribute to creating a more conducive environment for investment flows. He said the economic Ministries of the two countries had taken steps to gradually liberalize policies.


"I am aware that as captains of industry you will have a major focus on profits. I am sure you are equally aware that, as a politician, I have to keep a watch on votes. But, at the same time, all of us must have ambitions that go beyond these. Our ultimate aim has to be the well-being of human beings. We have to strive for inclusiveness not only in our individual nations and corporations but in the world and across nations. We live today in a world where all our fates are tied together. For that reason, if for no other, we have to strive together to create a better world.

"Our ambitions must go beyond the economy. India’s founding fathers had a vision very similar to what the founding fathers of the United States had. India is today a secular, democratic nation and, as a political leader of India, I am proud of that.

"To hold on to these ideals and to run to a growing robust economy means having to face lots of challenges. We must collectively rise to those challenges.

"I know that this sounds as if I am trying to reach for the stars. I want to assure you that that is exactly what I am doing. Together we must try to reach for the stars," Mr Mukherjee added.


Ms Clinton said that, as both Mr Obama and Dr Singh had said numerous times in the last 16 months, the increased cooperation between the US and India was the cornerstone of the 21st century Strategic Partnership between the two countries.


She said Mr Obama and Dr Singh had reinvigorated the CEOs Forum last year based on the idea that Washington and Delhi needed to catch up to the business and innovation cooperation that is already happening in New York and Mumbai.


She quoted a recent report which said Indian investment in the US grew by an estimated 60 per cent in 2009, to over $7 billion. That same report indicated that trade in goods between the two countries tripled between 2004 and 2008, and that since 2004 Indian acquisitions in the United States had supported approximately 40,000 jobs in the US, with manufacturing exports to India linked to another 96,000 jobs. "That’s great progress and it’s a solid base on which to build," she said.


"But I think that we are just getting started in exploring all of the ways to improve opportunities for trade and investment and foster the kind of inclusive growth that lifts people out of poverty and strengthens our democracies. We want to turn recommendations for improving access to education into reality. We want to lay the groundwork for future cooperation to fight climate change, develop clean energy solutions, and so much more," she said.


Noting that President Obama was due to visit India in early November, she said a lot of hard work was needed to translate a lot of the ideas that had been discussed into accomplishments and realities for that visit.


An official press release said the CEOs had met in a smaller format before interacting with the Government representatives.


They presented recommendations to both Governments in four core areas - Infrastructure; Clean Energy; Education and Health/Biotechnology. The Forum also discussed impediments and some breakthrough long-term ideas, it said.


According to the release, the recommendations included some interesting and ambitious ideas such as creation of an Infrastructure Debt Fund of $10 billion for development of infrastructure in India, collaboration under the National Solar Mission of India, a long-term initiative on diabetes research and treatment, linkages between educational institutions and joint research in clean energy, including bio-fuels.


Mr Mukherjee announced that, to follow up on the ideas, a committee headed by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission would be formed in India to carry forward the ideas with implementable action plans.


CEOs from both sides and representatives of the two Governments agreed that there was tremendous potential and synergy in the economic partnership between India and the US. The visit of President Obama to India later this year would provide an opportunity to intensify the economic engagement and translate some of these ideas into deliverables, they felt.


Mr Mukherjee also had a separate meeting with Mr Geithner when they discussed bilateral issues and the outlook for the global economy. They also discussed the euro-zone crisis and how this would impact on the global economy. They discussed issues relating to fiscal consolidation and Mr Mukherjee suggested that fiscal exits could be staggered and be country specific, depending on market conditions in each country.


Mr Sharma met Mr Kirk separately and discussed issues relating to India-US trade relations. Mr Ahluwalia had a meeting with US Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to discuss progress in India-US Agriculture cooperation, the release added.


Photos: Courtesy: Website of Embassy of India, Washington


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PM: India ready to walk extra mile, Pakistan must act against terror

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism and offered to walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in bilateral ties if it cooperated with India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the Majlis Al Shura in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking at the Majlis Al Shura in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 01, 2010.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism to realise the vision of peace and prosperity in South Asia and offered to walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in bilateral relations if it cooperated with India.

"India wishes to live in peace and friendship with its neighbours. I believe that all countries of South Asia should work to realize a common vision of peace and inclusive development for the region," Dr Singh said in his address to the Majlis-al-Shura in Riyadh today.

Dr Singh, who was on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, said India sought cooperative relations with Pakistan.

"Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognise that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole," he said.

"But to realise this vision, Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism. If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries," he said.

Pointing out that the interests of peoples and countries in the world were intertwined, Dr Singh said that, as two countries representing old civilizations, India and Saudi Arabia should work together to promote dialogue and peaceful co-existence among nations, religions and societies.

"We should work together as partners in shaping the global discourse on issues such as energy security, food security, climate change and terrorism. We should cooperate to deal with regional challenges such as maritime security, piracy, narcotics, human trafficking and other non-traditional threats to security," he said.

"Our two peoples are desirous of peace and goodwill. Together, India and Saudi Arabia can become a potent moral force for a better world and for a more secure future for our children," he said.

The Prime Minister said both India and Saudi Arabia were today threatened by extremism and violence. He stressed that the pursuit of terror in the name of religion or any other cause or grievance could not be acceptable to civilised societies.

"It has no sanction in any religion. History teaches us that the scourge of terrorism must be confronted with determination and united effort," he said.

He said that nowhere was this challenge greater than in Afghanistan. "The people of Afghanistan have suffered for far too long. They deserve an atmosphere of peace and the opportunity to pursue a life of dignity and hope," he said.

Dr Singh said the government of Afghanistan needed the support of the international community in restoring peace and development in the country. He said the international community should support all sections of Afghan society who wish to work towards the emergence of Afghanistan as a modern, stable and sovereign nation. No sanctuary should be given to those who promote terror, violence or instability in the country, he said.

Describing Saudi Arabia as the cradle of Islam, he said he was carrying a message of peace, brotherhood and friendship as well as the fraternal greetings of the people of India.

He said India regarded Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in the Gulf region and noted that, under King Abdullah, the kingdom had taken rapid strides towards modernisation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, at the Al Rawdah Palace at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, at the Al Rawdah Palace at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on February 28, 2010.

"As I stand before you, I am conscious of the wealth of history behind us, and the promise of a new partnership ahead of us," he remarked, as he traced the links between the two nations dating back to more than 5000 years ago, when ships made with teak from Kerala freely traversed the waters of the Indian Ocean and linked the people of Sindh, Gujarat and Malabar with the different ports of the Gulf and the Red Sea, going up to Basra and Alexandria.

He pointed out that, today, Islam was an integral part of India’s nationhood and ethos and of the rich tapestry of its culture.

"Our 160 million Muslims are contributing to our nation building efforts and have excelled in all walks of life. We are proud of our composite culture and of our tradition of different faiths and communities living together in harmony," he said.

Referring to King Saud's visit to India in 1955 and the visits by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Saudi Arabia in 1956 and by Indira Gandhi in 1982, Dr Singh said the tone for bilateral realtions in the 21t century was set by the landmark visit of King Abdullah to India in January, 2006.

He said the Delhi Declaration that he signed with King Abdullah on that occasion enshrined the shared vision of the two countries for a new relationship, in which they pledged to work not just for the development and prosperity of their peoples but for the security and peace of the region as a whole.

He told the gathering that his dialogue with King Abdullah in Riyadh yesterday and his meetings with other Saudi leaders had led to the reaffirmation of the close bilateral ties and the common interests of the two countries.

"We have agreed to impart a strategic character to our relations, and have put in place a roadmap for bilateral economic, political and security related cooperation that will constitute the core of our relationship in the coming years," he said.

Dr Singh said India was in the midst of rapid socio-economic transformation, hoping to achieve a growth rate of about 7.5 per cent in the current financial year.

"In the next 25 years we aspire to growth rates of between 9 to 10 per cent annually. This will enable us to lift millions of our people out of poverty and to transform India into one of the largest economies of the world. India looks to the future with confidence and hope," he said.

Noting that Saudi Arabia itself was witnessing remarkable progress as it modernised and diversified its economy, he said there was vast potential for cooperation between the two countries based on their inherent strengths and complementarities.

He sought Saudi investment in a range of sectors from infrastructure and manufacturing to the services and hospitality sector. Equally, Indian industry is ready to take advantage of the many opportunities that are opening up in the IT, banking, telecommunications, pharmaceutical and hydrocarbon sectors in Saudi Arabia, he said.

The Prime Minister said the kingdom was one of India’s major trading partners, with bilateral trade touching $ 25 billion in 2008-09. He said the two countries were looking at ways and means of expanding their traditionally strong collaboration in the energy sector.

He also took note of the contribution of the 1.8 million strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia - the largest abroad. He also pointed out that as many as 165,000 Indian pilgrims perform the Haj annually, the second largest group from any single country, with a similar number performing the Umrah every year.

Dr Singh spoke of the need for more contacts among the parliamentarians, scholars, scientists and students of both countries to renew the intellectual bonds between India and West Asia.

He also felt there was scope for considerable expansion of bilateral interactions in the political, defence and security spheres.

"West Asia is a vital part of India’s extended neighbourhood. We have deep and intricate ties with the Gulf countries. We have a high stake in the peace and stability of the region. Neither the countries of the region nor the world can afford fresh turmoil. We sincerely hope that wisdom will prevail and that in the resolution of conflicts and differences, dialogue will triumph over confrontation," he said.

The Prime Minister said there was no issue more important for peace and stability in the region than the question of Palestine.

For far too long the brave people of Palestine have been denied their just, legitimate and inalienable rights, including most of all the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state," he said.

He paid a special tribute to King Abdullah for the initiatives he has taken to bring about a just settlement. "We applaud and support the Arab Peace Initiative," he said.

"I take this opportunity of reiterating the principled, strong and consistent support of the government and people of India for the struggle of the Palestinian people. India has been making a contribution to the development of the Palestinian economy and its human resources and we will continue to do so," he added.

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PM says India ready to take on global targets for emission cuts

India has said it is willing to sign on to a target for emissions reductions or limiting temperature increase if it is accompanied by an equitable burden sharing paradigm.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma and other Heads of Commonwealth countries, during the CHOGM 2009, in Port of Spain on November 27, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma and other Heads of Commonwealth countries, during the CHOGM 2009, in Port of Spain on November 27, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India is willing to sign on to an ambitious global target for emissions reductions or limiting temperature increase but made it clear that this must be accompanied by an equitable burden sharing paradigm.

"We acknowledge the imperative of science but science must not trump equity. Climate Change action based on the perpetuation of poverty will simply not be sustainable," he said in his intervention on Climate Change at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) - 2009 at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Friday.

Speaking at a special session devoted to Climate Change, Dr Singh said India had repeatedly emphasised the need for the outcome at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Copenhagen next month to be comprehensive, balanced and, above all, equitable.

He said it must be comprehensive in the sense that it must cover all the inter-related components of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology.

He said this meant that a partial outcome must be resisted and that there must be balance and equal priority given to each of the four components.

"Mitigation is important but cannot take precedence over adaptation which, for many countries represented here, poses a greater challenge. And most important from our perspective, is the need to ensure an equitable outcome corresponding to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," he said.

Referring to the view expressed in some quarters that, given the limited amount of time available, it would be better to aim for a political outcome rather than a legally binding outcome, Dr Singh said the Copenhagen negotiating process must not be pre-empted.

"Whatever time is still available to us before the High Level Segment meets from December 16, should be used to achieve as much convergence as possible. If the consensus is that only a political document is feasible then we must make certain that the post-Copenhagen process continues to work on the Bali mandate and the UNFCCC continues to be the international template for global climate action. We must avoid any lowering of sights," he stressed.

The Prime Minister said the special session would enable CHOGM to send a powerful political message to Copenhagen so as to ensure an ambitious, substantive and equitable outcome.

He welcomed the participation of the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in the session, saying his perspective on the multi-lateral negotiations was particularly useful. He assured Mr Rasmussen that India would play a constructive and positive role and support all his efforts to secure a successful outcome at Copenhagen.

Similarly, he said French President Nicolas Sarkozy's presence at the deliberations added to their quality. "We have benefited from his insights and his wisdom and, in particular, his concern over the challenges posed to developing countries by Climate Change," he said.

He said UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon had played a key role in raising awareness of the dangers posed by Climate Change to humanity and had repeatedly stressed the need for urgency in our actions. "We agree with his assessment that the time for action is now," he said.

Dr Singh expressed India's complete solidarity with the sentiments expressed by several leaders from Small Island Developing States and from Africa, who, he said, were the least responsible for climate change and yet were the most vulnerable to its impact.

"Their very survival is at stake. We appreciate their concern because India, too, has extensive island territories and low lying coastal plains, which are vulnerable to sea-level rise ad extreme climatic events," he said.

He said India had modest resources at its disposal but was willing to share whatever it had to build adaptive capacity among the least developed countries and the Small Island Developing States.

The Prime Minister said that if the outcome at Copenhagen diminished rather than enhanced the implementation of the UNFCCC in respect of the specific components of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology, it would represent a serious setback, no matter how the result was characterised.

He emphasised that Climate Change was a challenge of global dimensions which deserved a global and a collaborative response. He said it was unfortunate that the global discourse on Climate Change had become enmeshed with arguments about maintaining economic competitiveness or level playing fields.

"Climate Change is becoming the pretext for pursuing protectionist policies under a green label. This would be contrary to the UNFCCC and a violation of the WTO as well. India and other developing countries will strongly resist this," he said.

He also said that the attempts by some countries to dispense with the Kyoto Protocol altogether had generated avoidable misgivings and had been strongly resisted by all developing countries without exception.

"We hope that a legally valid instrument to which we too are parties, will not be set aside in a cavalier manner. This will undermine credibility in any future legally binding instrument," he said.

Dr Singh told the meeting that India had adopted an ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change with 8 National Mission covering both mitigation and adaptation. He said India had not made their implementation conditional upon obtaining international support, but it could certainly do more if there were a supportive global regime.

"Each of the National Missions, including those on renewable energy, enhancing energy efficiency and expanding forest cover, are platforms on which we would be happy to pursue cooperative partnership with sister Commonwealth countries," he said.

Dr Singh welcomed the proposal made by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the mobilisation of at least $ 100 billion by 2020 for supporting climate change action in developing countries. He also welcomed the priority he had given to the needs of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

"However, much of this finance is market-based and hence subject to market volatility and unpredictability. We can hardly plan long-term action on this basis. Furthermore, adaptation requirements do not lend themselves to market based finance," he added.

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India, US say perpetrators of 26/11 must be brought to justice

India and the United States have underscored the absolute imperative to bring to justice the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at a banquet hosted in honour of Indian Prime Minister at White House, Washington on November 24, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at a banquet hosted in honour of Indian Prime Minister at White House, Washington on November 24, 2009.

India and the United States have underscored the absolute imperative to bring to justice the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, which claimed more than 180 lives.

"On the eve of its first anniversary, President Obama reiterated the United States’s condemnation of the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008," Mr Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a Joint Statement between them after their talks in the White House in Washington on Tuesday.

The two leaders recognised that the India-US partnership was indispensable for global peace and security and said that, in this context, the interests of both countries were best advanced through the values mirrored in their societies.

They acknowledged the common threat that international terrorism poses to regional and global security. They condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and declared that there could be no justification for terrorism anywhere.

The two leaders expressed their grave concern about the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India's neighborhood, whose impact is felt beyond the region. The two leaders agreed that resolute and credible steps must be taken to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries that provide shelter to terrorists and their activities. These undermine security and stability in the region and around the world.

The statement said the two leaders vowed to redouble their efforts to deal effectively with terrorism, while protecting their countries’ common ideals and shared values and committed themselves to strengthening global consensus and legal regimes against terrorism. They decided on a Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative to expand collaboration on counterterrorism, information sharing, and capacity building.

The two leaders reiterated their shared interest in the stability, development and independence of Afghanistan and in the defeat of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to the statement, President Obama appreciated India’s role in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. The two leaders agreed to enhance their respective efforts in this direction.

The two leaders committed to continue pursuing mutually beneficial defence cooperation through the existing security dialogue, service-level exchanges, defence exercises and trade and technology transfer and collaboration. They recognised the scope for cooperation in the areas of non-traditional threats to security, peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief, and maritime security and protecting sea lanes of communication. They agreed to expedite necessary arrangements to facilitate these activities.

The two leaders agreed that strengthening high technology trade between their countries is in the spirit of their strategic dialogue and partnership. They reiterated their shared commitment to technology security and that it is in their mutual interest to invigorate this area of their partnership.

The statement said Dr Singh and Mr Obama had reaffirmed the global strategic partnership between their two countries and had launched a new phase in this partnership today.

They commended the deepening bilateral cooperation between the world's two largest democracies across a broad spectrum of human endeavours and recognised that the common ideals and complementary strengths of the two countries today provided a foundation for addressing the global challenges of the 21sr century.

Mr Obama stated that the US looked forward to a stable and prosperous India playing an increasingly important role in world affairs.

The joint statement also touched upon the cooperation between the two countries in areas such as energy security, food security, climate change, elimination of poverty, ensuring sustainable development and a clean energy future. They agreed to enter into a Green Partnership to address these global challenges.

The two leaders reaffirmed their intention to promote the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in accordance with the Bali Action Plan. Recognizing their special role in promoting a successful and substantive outcome at the UNFCCC 15th Conference of Parties at Copenhagen in December, 2009, they reaffirmed their intention to work together bilaterally and with all other countries for an agreed outcome at that meeting.

The two leaders also affirmed that the Copenhagen outcome must be comprehensive and cover mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology, and in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, it should reflect emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries. There should be full transparency through appropriate processes as to the implementation of aforesaid mitigation actions. The outcome should further reflect the need for substantially scaled-up financial resources to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, in particular, for the poorest and most vulnerable. It should also include measures for promoting technology development, dissemination and transfer and capacity building, including consideration of a centre or a network of centres to support and stimulate climate innovation. India and the United States, consistent with their national circumstances, resolved to take significant national mitigation actions that will strengthen the world's ability to combat climate change. They resolved to stand by these commitments.

They agreed to collaborate in the application of their space technology and related scientific capabilities in outer space and for development purposes, including in the field of agriculture.

The two leaders reiterated their intention to realize the full potential of the India-U.S. Agreement for Cooperation concerning the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy through the implementation of its provisions. They agreed to expedite U.S. firms' participation in the implementation of this agreement.

The Joint Statement also talked about stimulating the global economic revival, and announced their intention to develop a Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment. This Framework is expected to foster an environment conducive to technological innovation and collaboration, promote inclusive growth and job creation, and support opportunities for increased trade and investment - including for small and medium-sized enterprises. They agreed to launch the U.S.-India Financial and Economic Partnership to strengthen engagement on economic, financial, and investment-related issues.

The two leaders welcomed the progress achieved in the discussions on a Bilateral Investment Treaty and pledged to take further initiatives that would contribute to creating a more conducive environment for investment flows.

They recognized the contribution of the business and industrial sectors of both countries in this regard and called upon the India-U.S. CEOs Forum to identify new directions in the India-U.S. economic relationship.

Other areas covered by the statement included cooperation in the fields of education and health.

Overall, the two leaders recognised that the India-US relationship was important for managing the challenges the world will face in the 21st centry and underscored the compelling need to put in place global institutions which are both inclusive and effective to meet present and future challenges.

They welcomed the emergence of the G-20 as a premier forum to deal with international economic issues. The two leaders recognized the scope for their countries to increase cooperation in peacekeeping, development and the promotion of essential human freedoms. They committed themselves to achieving genuine reform of the United Nations including in its Security Council in a manner that reflects the contemporary realities of the 21st century and thereby enhances its ability to carry out its mandate as a representative, credible and effective forum for meeting the challenges of the new century.

Earlier, addressing a joint press conference at the White House after their talks, Mr Obama said Pakistan had an enormously important role in the security of South Asia region by making sure that the extremist organisations that often operate out of its territories are dealt with effectively.

"And we've seen some progress.  The work that the Pakistan military is doing in the Swat Valley in west -- in south Waziristan all indicates the degree to which they are beginning to recognize that extremism, even if initially directed to the outside, can ultimately also have an adverse impact on their security internally," Mr Obama said.

Dr Singh said he and President Obama had a very useful and productive exchange of views relating to security, peace and counter-terrorism. He said he was very satisfied with the outcome of their discussions.

He also said that, as far as the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement was concerned, Mr Obama had re-affirmed that it was the common resolve of the two governments to operationalise the deal as early as possible.

"There are a few 'i's' and 't's' which have to be crossed -- and I am confident and I have the assurance of the President that that process can be completed without much further loss of time," he said.

Mr Obama said that it was obvious that there were historic conflicts between India and Pakistan but it was not the place of the US to try to, from outside, resolve all those conflicts. On the other hand, the US wanted to be encouraging of ways in which both India and Pakistan could feel secure, and focus on the development of their own countries and their own people, he said.

"With respect to the relationship between the United States and Pakistan's military, I think that there have probably been times in the past in which we were so single-mindedly focused just on military assistance in Pakistan that we didn't think more broadly about how to encourage and develop the kinds of civil society in Pakistan that would make a difference in the lives of people day to day," he remarked.

He hoped that, over time, there would be further clarity and further cooperation between all the parties and all peoples of goodwill in the region to eradicate terrorist activity, to eradicate the kind of violent extremist activity that has been seen in Pakistan. "I think that will benefit the peoples of Pakistan and India and the world community as well," he said.

In his opening remarks at the joint press conference, Mr Obama said the fact that Dr Singh's was the first official state visit of his presidency reflected America's admiration for the Prime Minister's leadersip, the deep bonds between the peoples of the two countries and the historic opportunity they had to strengthen and broaden the partnership between the two nations.

"India today is a rising and responsible global power.  In Asia, Indian leadership is expanding prosperity and the security across the region.  And the United States welcomes and encourages India's leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Asia.

"Beyond Asia, as the world's largest multiethnic democracy, as one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and as a member of the G20, India will play a pivotal role in meeting the major challenges we face today.  And this includes my top economic priority, creating good jobs with good wages for the American people," he said.

Mr Obama said he believed the relationship between the US and India would be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century and Dr Singh's visit underscored the strengthening of that partnership, which he hoped would continue throughout his presidency. "That's why I've made it a priority to broaden the cooperation between our nations," he remarked.

He said his administration's commitment to India could be seen in the new strategic dialogue between the two countries, which addresses the full range of challenges and opportunities before them.

"And our commitment to India can be seen in my personal partnership with Prime Minister Singh.  We've worked together on economic matters at our G20 summits in London and Pittsburgh, as well as L'Aquila.  I consider him a wise leader who has helped unleash India's extraordinary economic growth.  He is a man of honesty and integrity.  I respect him and I trust him, and I have happily accepted his gracious invitation to visit India next year," he said.

The US President said the two sides had agreed to strengthen the economic recovery and expand trade and investment so that they could create jobs for both their peoples.

He noted that Indian investment in America was creating and sustaining jobs across the US. The US is India's largest trading and investment partner and there is significant balance in their trading relationships, he said. He said that, to sustain this momentum, the two sides were creating new initiatives to promote trade, investment and technology cooperation, especially among their small and medium-sized businesses.

He said he had reaffirmed to Dr Singh his administration's commitment to fully implement the nuclear deal, which would increase American exports and create jobs in both countries.

They agreed to move forward with their commitments at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh to pursue balanced growth while ensuring that emerging economies like India have a greater voice in shaping the international financial architecture.

He said they had made progress in confronting climate change and commended the Prime Minister for India's leadership in areas like green buildings and energy efficiency. He said the two sides had , agreed to a series of important new efforts:  a clean energy initiative that will create jobs and improve people's access to cleaner, more affordable energy; a green partnership to reduce poverty through sustainable and equitable development; and an historic effort to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels.

"With just two weeks until the beginning of Copenhagen, it's also essential that all countries do what is necessary to reach a strong operational agreement that will confront the threat of climate change while serving as a stepping-stone to a legally binding treaty," he said.

Mr Obama said he and Dr Singh had reaffirmed that an agreement in Copenhagen should be comprehensive and cover all the issues under negotiation. 

"We resolved to take significant national mitigation actions that will strengthen the world's ability to combat climate change.  We agreed to stand by these commitments with full transparency through appropriate processes as to their implementation.  All this builds on the progress that we made in Beijing, and it takes us one step closer to a successful outcome in Copenhagen," he said.

The US President said he and Dr Singh had also agreed to deepen their cooperation against transnational threats. "The American people join our Indian friends in remembering the horrific attacks in Mumbai one year ago this week.  To prevent future attacks, we agreed that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies will work even closer, including sharing more information.  We discussed my review of our policy in Afghanistan, and I thanked Prime Minister Singh for India's substantial contributions to the Afghan people," he said.

Mr Obama welcomed Dr Singh's support for the non-proliferation agenda that he had laid out in Prague, and looked forward to India's participation in the nuclear security summit next year, as well as India's participation as a full partner in the shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

"Now, part of that vision is working together to ensure that all nations, including Iran and South -- North Korea, live up to their international obligations," he said.

Mr Obama said the two sides agreed to expand the educational exchanges that will fuel their knowledge-based economies. 

They decided to "dramatically" expand the Fulbright-Nehru program that brings students and scholars from both countries together, especially in science and technology. 

They also decided to increase ties and exchanges between their universities and community colleges as part of "a new Obama-Singh -- or Singh-Obama" -- 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.
"We think it's appropriately named," he quipped.

Mr Obama said that, to advance their historic food security initiative, American and Indian researches would collaborate to improve agricultural output and reduce hunger -- not only in India, where enormous strides have been made, but around the world. "India has much to teach the developing world in terms of achieving food sufficiency," he remarked.

He said American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention would partner with their Indian counterparts to create a new disease detection centre in India to combat infectious diseases and promote global health.

"This is the concrete progress made today across a whole range of issues to create jobs, opportunity and security for our people.  As a result, I believe the relationship between our two countries has never been stronger -- a reminder that it will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century," he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at a banquet hosted in honour of Indian Prime Minister at White House, Washington on November 24, 2009.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur being received by the US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama at a banquet hosted in honour of Indian Prime Minister at White House, Washington on November 24, 2009.

President and Ms Michelle Obama later hosted Dr Singh and Ms Gursharan Kaur at the first state dinner of his presidency. "It will be another opportunity to convey to the Prime Minister and the people of India, as India assumes its rightful place as a global leader in this century, that you will have no better friend and partner than the United States of America," he added.

Dr Singh said that when India and the US met, it was a moment to celebrate the values of democracy, pluralism, liberty and freedom. "Today we have done that and much more," he observed.

He said the two leaders had, in their discussions, reaffirmed the importance of the bilateral relationship between the two countries and decided on future steps to enhance their strategic partnership.

"We have agreed to further intensify our trade, investment, and economic cooperation in a way that creates jobs and prosperity in both our two countries and stimulates global economic recovery," he said.

Dr Singh expressed admiration for the leadership that President Obama had provided to stimulate and guide the G-20 process. He said they had decided to give a fresh impetus to collaboration in the fields of education, agriculture and health. He said the two countries would deepen their ongoing cooperation in frontier areas of science and technology, nuclear power and space. "This will open new opportunities for our universities and laboratories, and create human capital to meet the global needs of the future," he said.

The Prime Minister said he and Mr Obama had had a very constructive exchange of views on strategic issues. "Our defence cooperation is progressing well.  We agreed on the early and full implementation of our Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.  Our strategic partnership should facilitate transfer of high technologies to India.  The lifting of U.S. export controls on high technology exports to India will open vast opportunities for giant research and development efforts.  It will enable U.S. industry to benefit from the rapid economic and technological transformation that is now underway in our country," he said.

Referring to the Copenhagen meeting on Climate Change in December, he said he and Mr Obama had agreed on the need for a substantive and comprehensive outcome, which would cover mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology.  "We reaffirmed our intention to work to this end bilaterally and with all other countries," he said.

Dr Singh said India welcomed President Obama's commitment to a major programme for promotion of renewable energy. He drew Mr Obama's attention to India's own ambitious national action plan on climate change, which has eight national missions covering both mitigation and adaptation.

"Just as we partnered each other in the shaping of the knowledge economy, we have the opportunity today to become partners in developing the green economy of the future.  I underlined India's desire to benefit from clean and energy-efficient technologies from the United States.  Our partnership will contribute to global efforts to combat climate change and achieve energy security," he said.

Dr Singh said the two leaders had a detailed discussion on important regional and global issues. 
"We agreed that the Indo-U.S. partnership was important for addressing the challenges of an increasingly interdependent world that we live in.  The global economic crisis has brought home the fact that our prosperity is interlinked," he said.

"Our dialogue covered the need to have an open and inclusive architecture in the Asia Pacific regions.  It is important for the international community to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan, to help its emergence as a modern state," he said.

"The focus -- the forces of terrorism in our region pose a grave threat to the entire civilized world and have to be defeated.  President Obama and I have decided to strengthen our cooperation in the area of counterterrorism," he said.

Dr Singh said India welcomed the renewed international interest in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, pointing out that India had been a consistent advocate of a world free of nuclear weapons.  He said India would work with the United States and other countries for the success of the nuclear security summit, which President Obama is hosting next April.

"In our discussions today, there was a meeting of minds on the future direction of our relations.  I was deeply impressed by President Obama's strong commitment to the India-U.S. strategic partnership and by the breadth of his vision for global peace and prosperity," he said.

Dr Singh said he had invited President Obama to visit India. "A very warm welcome awaits him, his gracious wife and his two daughters," he added.

In reply to a question, Mr Obama said he thought the US and India were natural allies, not just around counter-terrorism issues but on a whole host of issues.

"As we discussed earlier, we're the world's two largest democracies.  We have a range of shared values and ideals.  We're both entrepreneurial societies.  We're both multiethnic societies.  We are societies that believe in human rights and core freedoms that are enshrined in our founding documents.

"And one of the things that I think makes us such strong allies is the people-to-people contact.  It's one thing for leaders to have exchanges like this one, and that's very important, obviously.  But the incredible contributions that Indian Americans have made to the growth of our country and the degree to which they are woven into the very fabric of our society, the fact that very few Indians don't have some family member somewhere who has a connection to the United States -- that kind of exchange strengthens and deepens the bonds between our two countries in a profound way.

"Now, with respect to security issues in the region, the Prime Minister and I -- Prime Minister Singh and I had extensive discussions about that.  I think we both recognize that our core goal is to achieve peace and security for all peoples in the region, not just one country or the other.  And one of the things I admire most about Prime Minister Singh is that I think at his core he is a man of peace," he added.

Photos: Courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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India ready to do more for Sri Lankan Tamils: Mukherjee

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Saturday India was willing to provide even more assistance for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said India was willing to provide even more assistance for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, over and above the assistance of Rs 500 crore announced by it earlier.

"India is doing and will continue to do whatever it can to assist Sri Lanka in this critical phase of its history," Mr Mukherjee said in the 4th Lakshman Kadirgamar Lecture in Colombo on the theme, "Economics as driving force of International Relations".

India is helping the Sri Lankan government in various ways in rehabilitation and resettlement of the Tamils after the Sri Lankan army decimated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"The effective elimination of terrorism and secessionism from Sri Lanka offers you such an opportunity; an opportunity to shape history; an opportunity to permanently change the complexion of the relationship between the majority community and the minorities; an opportunity to address the legitimate grievances of all communities; and an opportunity to bring permanent peace and stability to this nation," he said.

"These are sine qua non for building the Sri Lanka of the future – a future in which all communities will live side by side and enjoy the same rights and privileges and get the same opportunities," he said.

Mr Mukherjee said that it was natural that, after freeing the Tamils from terrorist forces, it was natural that the first and primary focus of the Government of Sri Lanka had been to ensure the immediate welfare and safety of its citizens.

"Thousands of Tamils have come out of the conflict zone traumatized by the conflict and harbouring deep concern and fear of what the future holds for them. These citizens need reassurance. They yearn to return to their homes and resume their livelihood. Several thousand Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have indeed been resettled recently and we welcome this development. However, many more await their turn for resettlement in camps. We are confident that their speedy return is receiving the highest consideration of the Government," he said

"India has not hesitated to come to Sri Lanka’s assistance at this crucial juncture. This is only natural," he said.

The Finance Minister said India was moving from purely relief efforts to a broader rehabilitation and reconstruction phase. Its assistance had so far covered humanitarian supplies such as food, medicines and other essential supplies. It set up an emergency field hospital and four Indian de-mining teams are presently working in Northern Sri Lanka. Three more are on their way.

He said India was also sending additional shelter material and providing assistance to revive agriculture and livelihood in the North. He said both sides were also discussing assistance in reconstruction of critical civil infrastructure in Sri Lanka, including railways. They were now discussing larger projects for the population in key cities who were traumatised by the conflict.

Mr Mukherjee said they had, at the same time, not lost sight of the urgent requirements in the Eastern Province as well as of the Indian origin Tamils in up-country areas.

The lecture series is held in memory of former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who served under then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Mr Kadirgamar was assassinated, allegedly by an LTTE sniper, in August, 2005.

Mr Mukherjee recalled the vision which Mr Kadirgamar had, both for close fraternal relations between India and Sri Lanka and for the future of Sri Lanka itself.

"It was he who dreamt of a world in which India and Sri Lanka would work together to build on our shared geography, history and culture in a relationship defined in his eloquent words by 'irreversible excellence'. It was also Lakshman who believed that Sri Lanka should remain united, and that its people should live together in an atmosphere of confidence and trust," he said.

He pointed out that Mr Kadirgamar believed that durable peace in Sri Lanka should be based on a constitutional arrangement acceptable to all communities in the nation based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

He recalled that the late Foreign Minister had said that it was important for all communities of Sri Lanka to realise that a political settlement was not a zero-sum game. It need not and should not come at the cost of another, he said.

He said Mr Kadirgamar's vision also drew upon the experience of the working of the Indian model. He believed that the Indian experiment with democracy was relevant in that India had chosen a democratic system which was designed to preserve the unity and integrity of the country without allowing for its disintegration.

The Finance Minister said there were many things in common between the two nations in terms of history, culture, philosophy and customs.

He said economics and international relations had a two-way relationship. "The economic strength of a country furthers international relations and vice-versa, creating a virtuous circle of growth and empowerment. The relationship has not changed though the (global economic and financial) crisis has brought in lessons that are likely to redefine the link in the interest of promoting global stability, he said.

According to him, the present crisis would be another watershed in the evolution of economics and is expected to bring about radical retooling of the theory.

He said there was a need for "visible hand" of oversight and regulation, without compromising market efficiency. Macro-prudential norms that aim at avoiding systemic risk through a watchful eye on asset price bubbles and imbalances, together with early warning indicators would be the key to this effort, he said.

Mr Mukherjee said developing countries are more vulnerable to crisis, as they have fewer cushions against shocks.

According to him, to resuscitate growth in the developing countries, the lost export demand had to be replaced by expanding other components of domestic demand.

"The best option is to expand investment. An obvious area where additional investment is required is infrastructure, including energy, transport and other public services. These investments can be made ahead of requirements and therefore are an ideal form of countercyclical activity," he observed.

He listed the various steps the Indian government had taken to cope with the crisis. He said the Indian economy had shown remarkable resilience to the crisis because the financial system had no exposure to the toxic assets.

He said the Indian growth was largely domestic economy driven, with merchandise exports accounting for only about 15 per cent of GDP.

"The extent of globalization however has increased over the years, which has been responsible for the setback that the economy received due to external shocks. The crisis hit the Indian economy initially through slowdown and reversal of capital flows, which impacted the stock market and the exchange rates. Thereafter, especially after the Lehman crisis, the real economy was affected through slowdown in exports, reduced investment activity and general risk aversion," he said.

He said that economic growth was expected to be in the range of 6-7 per cent in 2009-10, despite the setback due to the poor monsoon. The effort now was to bring the economy back on the growth path of 9 per cent per annum.

Mr Mukherjee expressed satisfaction that the Sri Lankan economy had also exhibited considerable resilience in the first few months of 2009 despite shocks from the global recession and the resultant slowdown in domestic economic activity.

He said the world economy was showing signs of recovery and global output was expected to expand by 3.1 per cent in 2010.

"The risks however, remain and the recovery would be razor edge walk, especially because signs of asset price bubble and heightened carry trade activity are re-emerging," he said.

"Against this backdrop of our shared inheritance lie the sobering realities of the current economic crisis. Global economic and financial slowdown has put the spotlight squarely on Asia as a region which can lead the global economic revival. Developing countries were in no way responsible for the crisis but have been the hardest hit. India has also been affected but fortunately not as bad as some others," he said.

The Finance Minister said India and Sri Lanka could show the way for Asia by cooperating even more with each other, building on the success of their Free Trade Agreement (FTA). He noted that the two sides had already initialed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) last year.

"I can assure you one thing – at a time when global players are investing in India to leverage their synergies with us, including in services, CEPA can only be a win-win situation for both India and Sri Lanka," he stressed.

"There are, however, hopeful signs that the future is closer to us than we think," he remarked, pointing to the fact that one of Sri Lanka’s largest companies, Brandix, has started a fully integrated textile city in Vishakapatnam.

He said Sri Lankan Airlines is already the largest foreign airline in India. Colombo Port and Colombo Dockyard feed on substantial Indian business. Many other Sri Lankan companies have realized the potential India offers. Many Indian corporations are also investing in Sri Lanka, the most prominent being Tata, Ceat, Indian Oil, Airtel, Ultratech and NTPC. Indian banks and an insurance company operate in Sri Lanka as well, he said.

He also said the two countries were looking at power-grid interconnectivity. There are more than 100 flights a week between the two countries. India already accounts for the largest number of tourist arrivals into Sri Lanka.

"Our development partnership has expanded to include several projects which India is taking up in Southern Sri Lanka including the Southern Railway corridor. Trade, connectivity, tourism and exchange of information and ideas are the key to greater economic engagement, he said.

"The future of peace, security and development of our region has to be fortified through common economic prosperity. We are already engaged in this process through SAARC, which has moved from a declaratory to an implementation stage. The challenge today is to build inter-dependencies which not only integrate our region but also create a strong interest in each other’s stability and prosperity. Critical to this is connectivity of goods, people and ideas. India and Sri Lanka have the will and determination to take a leadership role in this quest," he added.

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Obama to host first state dinner for Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pay an official state visit to the United States on November 24, the first state visit to be hosted by President Barack Obama, the White House announced on Friday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pay an official state visit to the United States on November 24, the first state visit to be hosted by President Barack Obama, the White House announced here on Friday.

"This visit will be the first state visit of the administration and will highlight the strong and growing strategic partnership between the United States and India, and the friendship between the American and Indian people," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb said.

Mr Gibb said the two leaders were expcted to discuss a range of global, regional, and bilateral issues of shared interest and common concern.

"The two leaders will also likely discuss the strategic dialogue that was launched in July and review progress made in the dialogue," the statement said.

President Obama and Mrs Michelle Obama will also host Dr Singh and Mrs Gursharan Kaur for an official state dinner on the night of November 24.

"President Obama looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Singh to Washington and working with him to strengthen and enhance their partnership for the benefit of the people of both nations, and the world," Mr Gibb added.

The invitation from Mr Obama to visit the United States was hand-delivered to Dr Singh by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Delhi in July.

The United States and India have come closer to each other in recent years and the two countries signed a landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement in July, 2005 during the tenure of President George W Bush.

Since then, the relationship has strengthened further and Mr Obama has said that India was a "major foreign policy priority" for the United States. He has promised to take the nuclear deal forward and said that he sees India as a "critical partner" on issues from climate change to combating terrorism.

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Obama unveils strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan

President Obama unveiled his much-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan with the "clear and focused goal" of destroying the terrorist group Al Qaeda in both countries and prevent their return in the near future on Friday.

US President Barack Obama today unveiled his much-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan with the "clear and focused goal" of destroying the terrorist group Al Qaeda in both countries and prevent their return to either country in the near future.

In a sombre speech at the White House, Mr Obama said the "comprehensive and new strategy" marked the conclusion of a careful policy review that he had ordered as soon as he took office in January this year.

He spoke about the perilous position faced by the US in Afghanistan and the threat that would arise should safe havens for the al Qaeda in Pakistan go unchallenged or should the Kabul government fall to the Taliban again. He also stressed that 2008 was the deadliest year so far in the war against terror.

"The situation is increasingly perilous," Mr Obama said. "The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked."

The US President said intelligence reports had warned that the al Qaeda, said to be responsible for the 9/11 attacks, was planning more attacks on the US from safe havens in the mountainous border regions of Pakistan.

"For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world. But this is not simply an American problem. The safety of the world is at stake," he said.

"Many people in the United States -- and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much -- have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? And they deserve a straightforward answer," Mr Obama said.

"So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just," he explained.

The President there was a need for a comprehensive strategy in the two countries, including a "standing, trilateral dialogue among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Expressing his profound respect for the Pakistani people and their history, Mr Obama pledged that the US would do all it could to help Pakistan fight against the terrorists who have so often attempted to destablilise the country, and had killed so many people, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Similarly, he expressed his admiration for the people of Afghanistan and went on to describe the shift coming on the ground in that country.

"Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy. Our civilians have made great sacrifices. Our allies have borne a heavy burden. Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future. But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.

"I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August," he said.

Mr Obama said the US would simultaneously strengthen the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan where he said the al Qaeda and allied terrorist groups had become a "cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

He said Washington would step up military assistance to Islamabad to help it fight the al Qaeda and give it more economic assistance in coordination with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

He said the assistance given to Pakistan for years had yielded only "mixed results."

"We will not provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and other violent extremists within its borders," he said.

Mr Obama said the US would shift the emphasis of its mission in Afghanistan to training and increasing the size of the Afghan security forces so that they could eventually take the lead in securing their country.

"That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.

"For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 -- and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward," he said.

Mr Obama said this push must be combined with a dramatic increase in America's civilian effort.

"Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.

"So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague," he said.

Pointing out that at a time of a global economic crisis, the President said it was tempting to believe that the US could shortchange this civilian effort. But he The President emphasised that US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan would fail if it did not invest in the future of the two countries.

He said there would be a new regime of accountability in the execution of this war, beginning with contractors, and stretching to demanding clearly understood goals:

"There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans -- including women and girls.

"Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We’ll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals," he said.

Mr Obama said that the US would form a contact group on Afghanistan, involving countries that had a stake in the security of the region, including Iran, Russia, India and China.

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Jaitley invites Russian firms for tech transfer to Indian companies in defence sector

Union Minister for Finance and Defence Arun Jaitley at the Plenary Session “Make in Russia: Double Purpose Industrialization” of Technoprom-2017, at Novosibirsk, Russia on June 21, 2017.
Union Minister for Finance and Defence Arun Jaitley at the Plenary Session “Make in Russia: Double Purpose Industrialization” of Technoprom-2017, at Novosibirsk, Russia on June 21, 2017.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley today invited Russian companies to come forward with proposals for technology transfer to Indian companies and facilitate manufacturing of more advanced components/ parts and sub-systems for defence equipment.
 
This can start with platforms of Russian origin where the requirement is in large numbers and is recurring in nature, Mr Jaitley said addressing the plenary session of "Make in Russia: Double Purpose Industrialisation" at Technoprom-2017 at Novosibirsk in Russia.
 
“We envisage ‘Make in India’ in defence sector to not only address domestic requirements but also to enable Indian firms to become part of the global supply chain. Despite India’s significant domestic requirements in defence, manufacturing and business would be sustainable in the longer term only if companies look at global requirements and create economies of scale,” he added.
 
As an incentive, industrial licensing for manufacturing of defence equipment has been significantly liberalised, he pointed out. “Now for manufacturing of parts, components, sub-systems, production equipment and testing equipment, no license is required from the Government. Even for the items for which license is required, the initial validity has been increased from three years to 15 years. As a result of this liberal approach, the presence of private companies in defence production sector has risen manifold in last two years,” he said.
 
“Russian companies may identify some items for which they can set up joint ventures with Indian companies so that these items can be supplied across the world. Keeping this in mind, we have also streamlined the process of export clearances in last two years.
 
"India’s export control processes and technology security mechanisms are robust as required in the interest of national security. “India is likely to soon become a member of the multilateral Wassenaar Arrangement, which will further catalyse our international engagement,” he added.
 
Another area where Russian industry and business houses can join hands with Indian companies is research and development. “We are now giving significant emphasis to technology development and innovation in the defence sector. In the Defence Procurement Procedure-2016, we have streamlined the ‘Make’ procedure to encourage and incentivize design and development of defence equipment and systems. We would welcome partnerships between Indian and Russian companies in this area as well,” he added.
 
“Cities such as Bengaluru, Delhi and Hyderabad have design centres of many global defence companies. Bengaluru is fast emerging as an aerospace design hub of the world. Russian companies must take advantage of the large skilled manpower available in India. This would be a win-win situation for companies of both countries,” he added.
 
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London high-rise fire: Police say 79 people dead or missing

Photo: London Fire Brigade
Photo: London Fire Brigade
London's Metropolitan Police Service today said that at least 79 people had died or were missing in the devastating fire that engulfed and almost completely destroyed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Towers, in West London in the early hours of last Wednesday.
 
"Sadly, what I can say now is that as a result of all our efforts we believe - as of 08:00hrs this morning - that 79 people are either dead or missing and sadly we must presume them dead following the fire at Grenfell Tower," Met Commander Stuart Cundy told journalsits.
 
"Of those 79, five have people have been formally identified. I have specially trained family liaison officers that are supporting all those families affected at this truly difficult time," he said.
 
He said the terrible reality of the fire that night meant that the police were supporting some people who may have lost a number of members of their family.
 
"We will give them every possible support at this truly difficult time. Clearly, our family liaison officers will be doing that with the utmost compassion and dignity.
 
"However - what I must stress is that the figure of 79 may change and it may change for a number of reasons," he said. "Based on what I know today I do not expect that to be in such numbers as we have seen over the last few days.
 
"It is an awful reality that some people may not be identified due to the intensity of the fire," he said.
 
He said the police were making all possible efforts to trace all those people who could have been in the building  on the fateful night and ensure that they were safe and well. 
 
"What is important to myself, and all of us, is to find everyone who is inside the building and return them to their loved ones. Thankfully, due to all the work we have been doing over the last few days, we have located five people who we feared dead and are in fact safe and well.
 
"Our work to recover those people from inside is ongoing - specialist teams from the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and the police are continuing their painstaking task to locate and recover all those in Grenfell Tower. We have been able to send those teams through the whole building from the top to bottom.
 
"On Saturday I was in there myself, I went all the way to the top floor and it's incredibly hard to describe the devastation suffered in some parts of the building," he said.
 
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He said this was the reason the police had taken the step of issuuing photographs from inside the building to help people understand the complexity of the work and why it would take so long. 
 
"We will explain to families what the identification process is...To date five people have been formally identified - once that has happened and with the agreement of the families we will make their names public," he said.
 
According to various sources, Grenfell Tower, Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London, had about 130 flats with some 500 residents, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started at around 0045 hours on Wednesday.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours on Wednesday and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16 hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there. Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
The cause of the fire is not known at this stage. The building had undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment recently.
 
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London high-rise fire: Police say 58 dead or missing

Photo: London Fire Brigade
Photo: London Fire Brigade
London's Metropolitan Police Service has said that at least 58 people have died or are missing in the devastating fire that engulfed and almost completely destroyed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Towers, in West London in the early hours of last Wednesday.
 
A statement from the police said this number included the 30 people who were confirmed dead on Friday.
 
"Based on what police now know, sadly 58 are missing and we assumed likely to have died. This latest figure includes the 30 already confirmed to have died in the devastating fire in a west London tower block on Wednesday," it said.
 
The police also confirmed the identity of one of the victims who perished in the fire. 
 
"Police can confirm that Mohammad Alhajali, aged 23, who lived in Grenfell Tower has now been formally identified. A post mortem examination was carried out on Friday, 16 June at Westminster Mortuary," the statement said.
 
According to it, family liaison officers have now been deployed to support 52 families. These include the families of those deceased as well as those who are critically injured, and also families in cases where police have strong reason to believe that people reported as missing are very likely to be inside Grenfell Tower.
 
"Over the last four days police have worked tirelessly to provide greater clarity on the number of people that are believed to have died in the fire.This has involved focusing our efforts on the people we have been told were in the building at the time of the fire but have not been seen since,"  it said.
 
"Those families who have not yet had a family liaison officer deployed to support them will be contacted by police throughout the course of this afternoon," it said.
 
The police said 16 bodies were now in a mortuary, including one person who died in hospital and the others have been recovered from the building.
 
At this stage 19 people remain in hospital of which ten are receiving critical care. Everyone who was taken to or who remains in hospital has been identified, it said.
 
The statement also said the ongoing search and rescue operation being carried out by joint specialist teams from the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and the Met had to stop on Friday afternoon due to serious concerns about the safety of those recovering bodies due to the overwhelming damage caused by the fire.
 
As of 13:30 on Saturday, those teams have re-entered the building and are now continuing with the recovery operation, which will take many weeks to come.
 
Metropolitan Police Service Commander Commander Stuart Cundy, said: "Whilst I sincerely hope that our work over the coming days means that we able to say that less people are confirmed as having died, I also have to consider the sad reality that this may rise.
 
"I would like to ask anyone who was in Grenfell Tower that night, but for whatever reason has not told us they are safe to please call our Casualty Bureau. It does not matter why you have not told us, what is important is that we know you are safe.
 
"I completely understand the growing sense of frustration within the local community and especially those people for whom Grenfell Tower was home.The loss of life as a result of this tragedy is truly harrowing, and we remain committed to providing the certainty and answers as soon as we possibly can.
 
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"Sadly, our work will be ongoing for many, many weeks. We know that there are still bodies of those who died inside the building and we want to return those people to their families as soon as we possibly can.
 
"The work to search the building is challenging, but naturally could never be done quickly enough for those currently having to live with the uncertainty of knowing where their loved ones are," he said.
 
"Family liaison officers are providing support to 52 families. We are drawing on officers from across the Met, and other forces, to provide our response and will make sure that our response has as many officers as it needs."
 
Meanwhile, detectives carrying out the investigation are appealing for the public's help.
 
"I would like to ask the public for their help with this complex investigation.If you have images or videos that show the fire then please give it to us. Part of our investigation will involve a painstaking analysis of how the fire spread and this footage could be vital to helping establish that.
 
The statement said that families would be informed as soon as formal identifications had been made, which can only be done when police can prove beyond doubt the identity. Due to the intensity of the fire that took hold of the building this is essential in ensuring that families can be confident in identification processes, it said.
 
"Internationally recognised standards of identification are being used to identify the deceased. These are known as the INTERPOL Disaster Victim Identification Standards.
 
"Victims are identified where possible, by at least one of the primary identification methods which are dental comparison, fingerprints and DNA.
 
"Other, secondary, identification features are also taken into consideration, such as tattoos and scars. Supporting information to consider can include jewellery, clothing or property.
 
"Trained liaison officers are deployed into families once a preliminary identification has been made, who support them through the formal identification process.These processes take place in conjunction with the coroner. Both the Met and the coroner are committed to working as quickly as possible to identify people and repatriate them to their families," the statement said.
 
Among other things, the police are investigating how the fire spread so quickly and dramatically to the entire building, from the second floor up, and claimed so many lives.
 
The police, however, had said on Friday that, following initial reports from specialist investigators and experts who examined the flat where the fire started, there was nothing to suggest the fire was started deliberately.
 
According to various sources, Grenfell Tower, Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London, had about 130 flats with some 500 residents, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started at around 0045 hours on Wednesday.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours on Wednesday and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16 hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there. Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
The entire area around the building was cordoned off by the police and around 30 adjacent flats to the tower block were evacuated as a precautionary measure. People were advised to avoid the area.
 
The cause of the fire is not known at this stage. The building had undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment recently.
 
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Death toll in London high-rise fire goes up to 30

 
Queen Elizabeth visits victims of London tower blaze
The death toll in the devastating fire that engulfed and almost completely gutted a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Towers, in West London in the early hours of Wednesday has risen to 30, with the recovery of 12 more bodies since yesterday.
 
The number also includes one person who succumbed to injuries in hospital, official sources said.
 
"The other deceased remain inside the building. Unfortunately, it is expected that the total will rise and it is not expected that any survivors will be found," a statement from the Metropolitan Police Service said.
 
The number of deceased is expected to increase as emergency services personnel go through the building, floor by floor, to look for victims in the coming days.
 
As many as 24 people, of the 79 hospitalised initially, remain in hospital, and 12 of them are receiving critical care.
 
Meanwhile, the authorities are putting together an investigation team to look at all aspects of how the fire spread so quickly and dramatically to the entire building, from the second floor up, and claimed so many lives, they said.
 
"Detectives from across the Met, led by Detective Chief Inspector Matt Bonner of the Homicide and Major Crime Command will investigate what happened and why," the statement said.
 
"At this stage the Met can confirm that, following initial reports from specialist investigators and experts who have examined the flat where the fire started, there is nothing to suggest the fire was started deliberately.
 
"However, like any investigation, it is the job of the police to establish all the facts and if any criminal offences have been committed.
 
"The Met will work closely with the London Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive, and it has been agreed that the police will take primacy of the investigation," the statement said.
 
Metropolitan Police Service Commander Stuart Cundy said the priority of everyone involved in the ongoing operation at Grenfell Towers was to recover and identify all the victims.
 
"It is very hard to find the words to express how those families affected must be feeling, and it is our job to work tirelessly to provide them with the answers they so richly deserve. This is a deeply distressing time and my thoughts remain with all those whose lives have been changed by this tragic incident," he said.
 
"Working with the Coroner and specialist detectives, using internationally recognised standards of identification, we will ensure that families are informed as soon as possible when we know beyond doubt that it is their loved one who has been identified.
 
"As I have said, that will be a complex process. Our efforts are focused on making sure we have family liaison officers supporting all those families where people are dead, critically ill in hospital or still unaccounted for.
 
"I'd urge anyone who has not yet been contacted by the police but is missing loved ones to either go to the reception centre at the Westway sports and leisure centre or call our Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233. This is really important so police liaison officers can directly support families."
 
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Mr. Cundy said the conditions inside the building meant that the search and recovery operation to find and recover the victims was extremely challenging. 
 
"The upper floors of the block are particularly hazardous due to the damage caused by the fire. The sad reality is that this work will take some time, stretching into many, many weeks.  We have specialist teams from the Police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service working closely together to do this as safely yet as swiftly as possible.
 
"Equally, our investigation will be complex and lengthy and will draw on some of our most experienced detectives from across the Met.
 
"We are determined to provide those families with detailed answers about the tragedy that has taken their loved ones from them and affected many others for the rest of their lives," he added.
 
The statement said dedicated and specially trained family liaison officers were being drawn together from a wide range of units and commands. As of this morning, family liaison officers have been deployed to support 36 families. These include the families of those identified as deceased as well as those who are critically injured, and also families in cases where police have strong reason to believe that people reported as missing are very likely to be inside Grenfell Towers.
 
The number of deployments will increase throughout the course of today, it said.
 
"The Casualty Bureau continues to be staffed 24 hours a day. If someone you have reported missing has now been found please update us at the Westway sports and leisure centre in Crowthorne Road or via Casualty Bureau," the statement added.
 
According to various sources, Grenfell Tower, Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London, had about 130 flats with some 500 residents, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started at around 0045 hours on Wednesday.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours on Wednesday and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16 hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there. Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
The entire area around the building was cordoned off by the police and around 30 adjacent flats to the tower block were evacuated as a precautionary measure. People were advised to avoid the area.
 
The cause of the fire is not known at this stage. The building had undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment recently.
 
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US designates ISIS head recruiter in India, two others as global terrorists

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The United States Department of State has designated Mohammad Shafi Armar, described as a leader and head recruiter in India for terrorist group ISIS, and two others as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).
 
A press release from the Department said the other two were Oussama Ahmad Atar, a Belgian-Moroccan national who is a senior leader of ISIS’s external operations efforts and has established a network to carry out attacks in Europe, and Mohammed Isa Yousif Saqar Al Binali, a senior member of ISIS who had departed Bahrain to join the terrorist group in 2014.
 
The release said the designations were done under Section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals, or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. 
 
As a consequence of these designations, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings with Armar, Atar, and Binali, and all of their property and interests in property subject to United States jurisdiction is blocked.
 
The release said Armar had cultivated a group of dozens of ISIS sympathizers who are involved in terrorist activities across India, such as plotting attacks, procuring weapons, and identifying locations for terrorist training camps.
 
It said Atar was a leading coordinator of the November 2015 Paris attacks and March 2016 attacks in Brussels. He was responsible for recruiting, training, and sending at least some of the individuals to Paris to launch the November 2015 attacks, which killed and injured hundreds, including Americans, it said.
 
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He also recruited and mentored two of the bombers involved in the March 2016 Brussels attacks that killed 32 and left many more wounded, it said.
 
According to the release, Binali has appeared in multiple ISIS propaganda videos calling on Bahrainis, specifically members of Bahrain’s security forces, to join ISIS.
 
"Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Atar, Armar, and Binali have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism. Designations expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and other governments," it said.
 
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Death toll in London high-rise fire goes up to 17

 
Death toll in London high-rise fire goes up to 17
The death toll in the devastating fire that engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments in West London in the early hours of yesterday has risen to 17, with the recovery of five more bodies, official sources said today.
 
The number is expected to increase as emergency services personnel go through the building, floor by floor, to look for victims in the coming days.
 
As many as 79 others were admitted to different hospitals in London for treatment of a range of injuries.
 
According to some sources, there were about 500 residents in the building, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London, which had about 130 flats, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started at around 0045 hours yesterday.
 
"Sadly I can confirm the number of people that have died is now 17. We do believe that that number will increase," Metropolitan Police Service Commander Stuart Cundy told journalsits.
 
"From my colleagues in the health service, there are still a number of people who are receiving treatment in hospital. There are 37 people receiving treatment, of which 17 are still in critical care," he said.
 
"Today is about those who are waiting for news about their loved ones. Our thoughts remain with those so deeply affected by the events over the last 24 hours," Mr. Cundy said.
 
"Yesterday was a very difficult day, clearly it was challenging overnight particularly for colleagues from fire. Today the work really starts in earnest to ensure that we do the appropriate recovery of everybody from those premises.
 
"Like we explained yesterday, our absolute priority is identifying and locating those people who are still missing. It would be wrong for me to get into numbers that I do not believe are accurate," he said.
 
"Our Casualty Bureau number is 0800 0961 233. If you have reported somebody missing and you now know they are safe and well please contact that number so we can identify those that we're still trying to find.
 
"My heart goes out to those families still trying to find their loved ones. Rest assured, please get in contact with us through the Casualty Bureau and our specialist trained officers will be in touch with you to support you through this," he said.
 
Mr. Cundy said the recovery operations were going to take a considerable period of time, and the building needed to be made structurally safe so that they could do their job and investigate the incident.
 
"A large team of specialist detectives will be investigating under Detective Chief Inspector Matt Bonner, alongside colleagues from the fire brigade. But I reiterate again, it is going to be a lengthy process," he said.
 
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London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours yesterday and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16 hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there. Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
The entire area around the building was cordoned off by the police and around 30 adjacent flats to the tower block were evacuated as a precautionary measure. People were advised to avoid the area.
 
The cause of the fire is not known at this stage. The building had undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment recently.
 
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told journalists at the scene yesterday that, in her 29 years with the London Fire Brigade, she had never seen a fire of this nature. “This is an unprecedented situation, with a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor up," she said.
 
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At least 12 killed as massive fire guts high-rise apartments block in London

At least 12 people were killed and scores hospitalised after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of Wednesday, official sources said.

 
At least 12 dead as fire engulfs London Tower block
At least 12 people were killed and scores hospitalised after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of today, official sources said.
 
More than 14 hours later, there were still pockets of fire in different parts of the building and thick plumes of smoke billowed into the evening sky. 
 
The final casualty figures are expected to be much higher as fire brigade and emergency service personnel carrying out a search of the building to look for survivors and victims.
 
London Ambulance Service Director of Operations Paul Woodrow said 69 patients had been taken to six hospitals across London, where 20 people are currently in critical care.
 
The patients were taken to the following hospitals: St Mary’s, King’s College, Chelsea and Westminster, the Royal Free, St Thomas’ and Charing Cross.
 
A further 10 patients made their own way to hospital, bringing the total number of people being treated to 79, he said.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours today and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16 hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there.
 
Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
The entire area around the building has been cordoned off by the police and around 30 adjacent flats to the tower block have been evacuated. People have advised to avoid the area.
 
The Fire Brigade said its crews were still at the scene working tirelessly to bring the fire under control and to carry out systematic searches of the tower block. Fire crews from North Kensington, Kensington, Hammersmith, Paddington and surrounding fire stations were also in attendance.
 
The Fire Brigade said its specialist urban search and rescue crews and a structural engineer had checked the building and said that it is not in danger of collapsing and that it is safe for their crews to be in there.
 
Injuries to firefighters have been minor and they have been treated at the scene by London Ambulance Service crews, it said.
 
The cause of the fire is not known at this stage. The building had undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment recently.
 
A statement from the Metropolitan Police said its Casualty Bureau is open for members of the public who are concerned about relatives or friends who may have been affected by the fire. The number for the Casualty Bureau is 0800 0961 233. "If someone was reported as missing and has been found safe, please call the Casualty Bureau with an update," it said.
 
"Grenfell Tower residents are asked to go to the Portobello Rugby Club at Walmer Road and make themselves known," the statement said.
 
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told journalists at the scene that, in her 29 years with the London Fire Brigade, she had never seen a fire of this nature.
 
“This is an unprecedented situation, with a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor up. 
 
“Over 200 firefighters and officers are attending this incident, with 40 fire engines and a range of other specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units at the scene.
 
“Based on the level of resource that was needed at this fire we declared it a major incident in the early hours of this morning.
 
“London Fire Brigade’s Control room took multiple calls, with the first being received at 00.54am The first fire crews arrived on the scene in under six minutes and were faced with a rapidly developing and incredibly complex  fire.
 
“Crews wearing breathing apparatus have been working tirelessly in extremely difficult conditions to rescue people and to bring this major fire under control," she said.
 
Ms. Cotton said there would be an investigation but said she did not, at this stage, want to speculate about the cause of the fire or what had caused it to spread in the way that it did. "We will be working with all agencies, including the local authority to support all of those affected by this incident," she said.
 
"I would also urge anyone who has been involved in the fire and is safe to make themselves known to the emergency services if they haven't already done so," she added.
 
Commander Stuart Cundy of Metropolitan Police Service said the death toll was likely to rise "during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days".
 
"If you do have any concerns for anybody connected to this awful event, please call the Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233. If you do not get through immediately, please try again. If you have any concerns, please use that number rather than dialling 999 or 101.
 
"If you are a resident who has been evacuated from the area and can't now get home the current reception centre being coordinated by the local authority is at the Portobello Rugby club at Walmer Road. We urge anyone who lived in the block to make themselves known at that centre so that we know they are safe. If you are unable to get to the centre please speak to a police officer. This is really important as we account for all those in the building.
 
"Equally if you have reported someone missing and they are now safe and well it is really important that you contact Casualty Bureau so that we can keep an accurate record of who is missing and who is safe.
 
"We kindly ask that the public stay away from the area. I thank the public for their patience and their cooperation today which has already greatly assisted our policing response."
 
Mr. Cundy added: "There are a significant number of officers at the scene who are continuing to work with the other emergency services and agencies. I’d like to thank my officers and colleagues at London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service for the sterling work they are doing at this time."
 
Extensive cordons were put in place and a number of nearby residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure. The A40 is closed in both directions.
 
"It is likely to take some time before we are in a position to confirm the identity of the victims. It is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.
 
"Anyone concerned about a loved one should contact Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233 or 0207 158 0197. Those travelling to and from the area are asked to check before they start their journey visit www.tfl.gov.uk," he added.
 
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Mr. Woodrow said more than 100 medics from the London Ambulance Service (LAS) worked hard to respond to the incident, including ambulance crews, advanced paramedics, advanced trauma teams from London's Air Ambulance and those staff managing the incident in its special operations centre. 
 
The LAS' hazardous area response teams were also on scene with specialist equipment including breathing apparatus. "We’ve been treating patients for a range of injuries, as well as for smoke inhalation," he said.
 
""A major incident has been declared and we continue to work closely with other members of the emergency services at the scene.
"We urge Londoners to only call us in a genuine emergency and to call NHS 111 for urgent healthcare advice," he added.
 
Fire Brigade personnel evacuated several people from the tower block. Apart from ambulances, numerous resources and specialist appliances were deployed at the spot, fire brigade sources said.
 
Eyewitnesses told television channels that they saw people waving flashlights from the windows on the upper floors of the building to draw attention to where they were stranded. 
 
Pieces of debris could be seen falling to the ground and questions were being raised about the integrity of the structure. Police cordoned off the entire area and also evacuated people from some apartments in adjoining buildings as a precautionary measure.
 
The fire, which had spread very quickly to the entire building, raged throughout the night before the fire fighters were able to bring the flames under control this morning. Thick colums of black smoke rose into the sky several hours later.
 
According to some sources, there were about 600 residents in the building, which had about 130 flats, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started.
 
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At least six killed as massive fire destroys high-rise apartments block in London

At least six people were killed and scores hospitalised after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of Wednesday, official sources said.

 
At least six dead as fire engulfs London Tower block
At least six people were killed and scores hospitalised after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of today, official sources said.
 
More than 14 hours later, there were still pockets of fire in different parts of the building and thick plumes of smoke billowed into the evening sky. 
 
The final casualty figures are expected to be much higher as fire brigade and emergency service personnel carrying out a search of the building to look for survivors and victims.
 
"We can confirm six fatalities at this time following the fire in North Kensington in the early hours of this morning, Wednesday, 14 June. These are very early stages and we do expect that figure to rise," a statement from the London's Metropolitan Police Service said.
 
London Ambulance Service Director of Operations Paul Woodrow said 64 patients had been taken to six hospitals across London, where 20 people are currently in critical care.
 
The patients were taken to the following hospitals: St Mary’s, King’s College, Chelsea and Westminster, the Royal Free, St Thomas’ and Charing Cross.
 
A further 10 patients made their own way to hospital, bringing the total number of people being treated to 74, official sources said.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours today and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread very quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
Police said they were called at 01:16hrs to reports of a large fire at a block of flats at the Lancaster West Estate, W11 and officers were rushed there.
 
Emergency services evacuated as many residents as possible from the tower block in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
Commander Stuart Cundy, from the Metropolitan Police, said: "Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower.
 
"I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care.
 
"If you do have any concerns for anybody connected to this awful event, please call the Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233. If you do not get through immediately, please try again. If you have any concerns, please use that number rather than dialling 999 or 101.
 
"If you are a resident who has been evacuated from the area and can't now get home the current reception centre being coordinated by the local authority is at the Portobello Rugby club at Walmer Road. We urge anyone who lived in the block to make themselves known at that centre so that we know they are safe. If you are unable to get to the centre please speak to a police officer. This is really important as we account for all those in the building.
 
"Equally if you have reported someone missing and they are now safe and well it is really important that you contact Casualty Bureau so that we can keep an accurate record of who is missing and who is safe.
 
"We kindly ask that the public stay away from the area. I thank the public for their patience and their cooperation today which has already greatly assisted our policing response."
 
Mr. Cundy added: "There are a significant number of officers at the scene who are continuing to work with the other emergency services and agencies. I’d like to thank my officers and colleagues at London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service for the sterling work they are doing at this time."
 
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Extensive cordons were put in place and a number of nearby residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure. The A40 is closed in both directions.
 
"It is likely to take some time before we are in a position to confirm the identity of the victims. It is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.
 
"Anyone concerned about a loved one should contact Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233 or 0207 158 0197. Those travelling to and from the area are asked to check before they start their journey visit www.tfl.gov.uk," he added.
 
Mr. Woodrow said more than 100 medics from the London Ambulance Service (LAS) worked hard to respond to the incident, including ambulance crews, advanced paramedics, advanced trauma teams from London's Air Ambulance and those staff managing the incident in its special operations centre. 
 
The LAS' hazardous area response teams were also on scene with specialist equipment including breathing apparatus. "We’ve been treating patients for a range of injuries, as well as for smoke inhalation," he said.
 
""A major incident has been declared and we continue to work closely with other members of the emergency services at the scene.
 
"Members of the public who are concerned about friends and relatives should contact the police Casualty Bureau on 0800 096 1233.
 
"We urge Londoners to only call us in a genuine emergency and to call NHS 111 for urgent healthcare advice," he added.
 
 “This is an unprecedented situation, with a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor upwards," London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told journalists at the scene.
 
“Over 200 firefighters and officers are attending this incident, with 40 fire engines and a range of other specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units in attendance," she said.
 
“Based on the level of resource that were needed at this fire we declared it a major incident in the early hours of this morning.
 
“London Fire Brigade’s Control room took multiple calls to this incident, with the first received at 00.54am. First fire crews were on site in under six minutes. Crews wearing breathing apparatus have been working in extremely difficult conditions to rescue people and bring this major fire under control," she said.
 
Ms. Cotton said the cause of the fire was not known at this stage. The entire building had been refurbished recently.
 
Fire Brigade personnel evacuated several people from the tower block. Apart from ambulances, numerous resources and specialist appliances were deployed at the spot, fire brigade sources said.
 
Fire crews from North Kensington, Kensington, Hammersmith and Paddington and from surrounding fire stations were also at the scene.
 
Eyewitnesses told television channels that they saw people waving flashlights from the windows on the upper floors of the building to draw attention to where they were stranded. 
 
Pieces of debris could be seen falling to the ground and questions were being raised about the integrity of the structure. Police cordoned off the entire area and also evacuated people from some apartments in adjoining buildings as a precautionary measure.
 
The fire, which had spread very quickly to the entire building, raged throughout the night before the fire fighters were able to bring the flames under control this morning. Thick colums of black smoke rose into the sky several hours later.
 
According to some sources, there were about 600 residents in the building, which had about 130 flats, but there was no estimate about how many were actually in when the fire broke out. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started.
 
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Several dead as massive fire destroys high-rise apartments block in London

Several people have died after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of Wednesday, official sources said.


 
Huge fire engulfs London high-rise
Several people have died after a devastating fire engulfed a 24-storeyed building of apartments, Grenfell Tower, on Latimer Road in North Kensington in West London in the early hours of today, official sources said.
 
London Fire Brigade said they received the first calls about the fire at around 0054 hours today and as many as 40 fire tenders and 200 firefighters reached the scene soon.
 
The firefighters battled the flames, which spread quickly and engulfed nearly the entire building, from the second floor to the top floor, leaving many people, epsecially those on the upper floors, with not much time to escape.
 
“At this time I am sad to confirm that we now know that there have been a number of fatalities. I cannot confirm the number at this time and as you will appreciate with a fire of this size, affecting such a large building it would be unhelpful of me to speculate further," London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told journalists at the scene.
 
London Ambulance Service Assistant Director of Operations Stuart Crichton said they had taken more than 50 patients to five hospitals across London following the incident.
 
“This is an unprecedented situation, with a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor upwards," Ms. Cotton said.
 
“Over 200 firefighters and officers are attending this incident, with 40 fire engines and a range of other specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units in attendance," she said.
 
“Based on the level of resource that were needed at this fire we declared it a major incident in the early hours of this morning.
 
“London Fire Brigade’s Control room took multiple calls to this incident, with the first received at 00.54am. First fire crews were on site in under six minutes. Crews wearing breathing apparatus have been working in extremely difficult conditions to rescue people and bring this major fire under control," she said.
 
Ms. Cotton said the cause of the fire was not known at this stage.
 
Fire Brigade personnel evacuated several people from the tower block. Apart from ambulances, numerous resources and specialist appliances were deployed at the spot, fire brigade sources said.
 
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Fire crews from North Kensington, Kensington, Hammersmith and Paddington and from surrounding fire stations were also at the scene.
 
Eyewitnesses told television channels that they saw people waving flashlights from the windows on the upper floors of the building to draw attention to where they were stranded. 
 
Pieces of debris could be seen falling to the ground and questions were being raised about the integrity of the structure. Police cordoned off the entire area and also evacuated people from some apartments in adjoining buildings as a precautionary measure.
 
The fire, which had spread very quickly to the entire building, raged throughout the night before the fire fighters were able to bring the flames under control this morning. Thick colums of black smoke rose into the sky several hours later.
 
There was no estimate about the number of people who could have been trapped in the building, which had about 130 flats. Most of those present in the building would have been asleep when the blaze started.
 
Mr. Crichton said more than 100 medics were working to respond to the incident, including ambulance crews, advanced paramedics, advanced trauma teams from London's Air Ambulance and the hazardous area response team.
 
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Modi meets Xi Jinping in Astana, underlines need to respect each other's "core concerns"

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Astana on Friday and, during their discussions on a wide range of issues, underlined the need for them to respect each other's "core concerns".

 
Modi meets Xi Jinping on margins of SCO Summit in Astana
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit here today and, during their discussions on a wide range of issues, underlined the need for them to respect each other's "core concerns".
 
This was the first meeting between the two leaders after India stayed away from the Belt and Road Forum held by China in Beijing last month, at which 29 world leaders were present.
 
During today's meeting, which was described as "cordial and positive", Mr. Modi thanked Mr. Xi for his support for India's accession as a full member to the SCO.
 
Both leaders stressed that, in a multipolar world and at a time of global uncertainty, India-China relations were a factor of stability and it was important for both countries to work together more closely.
 
Briefing journalists about the meeting, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said the discussions took place in a "very cordial and positive" atmosphere.
 
He said the two sides shared an understanding that any differences they might have must not be allowed to become disputes. In fact, if handled well, these could also become opportunities, they felt.
 
Dr. Jaishankar said the two leaders covered a wide range of topics, including economic cooperation, trade, investment and connectivity. Youth and cultural exchanges were also discussed.
 
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The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Mr. Xi called for closer cooperation between the two countries so that they could impart greater momentum to each other's development and contribute to world peace, stability and development.
 
Mr. Xi said China attached great importance to its ties with India and stood ready to work with it to enhance mutual political trust, link their development strategies, deepen cooperation and coordinate in international and regional affairs.
 
He called for more high-level interactions, institutionalized exchanges, strategic communication and policy alignment between the two countries.
 
China and India should also boost trade and investment cooperation and work together for earlier harvest from large-scale cooperation projects in such areas as production capability, industrial parks and railway construction, Mr. Xi said.
 
He said the two countries should jointly promote regional connectivity and development, advance the building of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor and strengthen cooperation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
 
Mr. Xi said the two sides should increase communication and coordination in multilateral affairs and appropriately control and handle disputes and sensitive problems. He also called for more cultural and tourism exchanges, among others, between the two neighbors.
 
Mr. Modi also had a "warm and productive" meeting with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Stronger linkages in the spheres of economy, trade and health came up for discussion, official sources said.
 
Yesterday, soon after his arrival here, Mr. Modi held a bilateral meeting with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He congratulated Kazakhstan for membership of the United Nations Security Council in 2017-18.
 
President Nazarbayev received Mr. Modi warmly and recalled his earlier visit to Kazakhstan in 2015. Both leaders reviewed progress on decisions and agreements made during that visit. Kazakhstan is currently the largest supplier of uranium to India, and both sides agreed to maintain the partnership. Cooperation in this area of hydrocarbons was also discussed.  
 
Mr. Modi invited Kazakhstan to become a member of the International Solar Alliance. Both leaders also discussed the importance of enhancing connectivity. In this context, connectivity through the Chabahar port in Iran was also discussed. Two flights connecting Delhi and Astana will be launched soon, the sources added.
 
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12 dead in twin terror attacks on Iranian Parliament, Khomeini shrine in Tehran

 
Terrorists attack Iranian Parliament, Khomeini shrine
At least 12 people died and 42 others suffered injuries when two groups of armed terrorists attacked the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) here and the mausoleum of the late Imam Khomeini in Tehran this morning.
 
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said three terrorists were killed by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) special forces, while one blew himself up.
 
One terrorist was gunned down by security forces outside the Imam Khomeini mausoleum, and another attacker, a woman, blew herself up there, the reports said.
 
In an apparently coordinated operation, the two groups of terrorists struck at around 10.15 local time. ISIS has claimed responsibiity for the attacks.
 
The reports said the terrorists entered the Parliament building dressed as women.
 
The injured people are being treated at four hospitals in Tehran, according to official sources.
 
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