India’s Modi appeals for calm as riot toll rises to 20

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Wednesday after days of clashes between Hindus and minority Muslims over a controversial citizenship law in some of the worst sectarian violence in the capital in decades.

Twenty people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the violence, a doctor said, with many suffering gunshot wounds amid looting and arson attacks that coincided with a visit to India by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets in far greater numbers on Wednesday. Parts of the riot-hit areas were deserted.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.

Modi’s appeal came after a storm of criticism from opposition parties of the government’s failure to control the violence, despite the use of tear gas, pellets and smoke grenades.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for law and order in the capital.

The violence erupted between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.

A firefighter walks past damaged shops at a tyre market after they were set on fire by a mob in a riot affected area after clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.

Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.

On Wednesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a tweet that it was alarmed by the violence and it urged the Indian government “to rein in mobs and protect religious minorities and others who have been targeted”.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

After raucous welcome in India, Trump clinches $3 billion military equipment sale

By Steve Holland and Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that India will buy $3 billion worth of military equipment, including attack helicopters, as the two countries deepen defense and commercial ties in an attempt to balance the weight of China in the region.

India and the United States were also making progress on a big trade deal, Trump said. Negotiators from the two sides have wrangled for months to narrow differences on farm goods, medical devices, digital trade and new tariffs.

Trump was accorded a massive reception in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state on Monday, with more than 100,000 people filling into a cricket stadium for a “Namaste Trump” rally.

On Tuesday, Trump sat down for one-on-one talks with Modi followed by delegation-level meetings to try and move forward on issues that have divided them, mainly the festering trade dispute.

After those meetings, Trump said his visit had been productive with the conclusion of deals to buy helicopters for the Indian military. India is buying 24 SeaHawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin equipped with Hellfire missiles worth $2.6 billion and also plans a follow-on order for six Apache helicopters.

India is modernizing its military to narrow the gap with China and has increasingly turned to the United States over traditional supplier, Russia.

Trump said the two countries were also making progress on a trade deal, which had been an area of growing friction between them.

“Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I’m optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries,” said Trump in remarks made alongside Modi.

The two countries had initially planned to produce a “mini deal”, but that proved elusive.

Instead both sides are now aiming for a bigger package, including possibly a free trade agreement.

Trump said he also discussed with Modi, whom he called his “dear friend”, the importance of a secure 5G telecoms network in India, ahead of a planned airwaves auction by the country.

The United States has banned Huawei, arguing the use of its kit creates the potential for espionage by China – a claim denied by Huawei and Beijing – but India, where telecoms companies have long used network gear from the Chinese firm, is yet to make a call.

Trump described Monday’s rally in Ahmedabad and again praised Modi and spoke of the size of the crowd, claiming there were “thousands of people outside trying to get in..

“I would even imagine they were there more for you than for me, I would hope so,” he told Modi. “The people love you…every time I mentioned your name, they would cheer.”

In New Delhi, Trump was given a formal state welcome on Tuesday at the red sandstone presidential palace with a 21-cannon gun salute and a red coated honor guard on horseback on a smoggy day.

HUG GETS TIGHTER

India is one of the few big countries in the world where Trump’s personal approval rating is above 50% and Trump’s trip has got wall-to-wall coverage with commentators saying he had hit all the right notes on his first official visit to the world’s biggest democracy.

They were also effusive in their praise for Modi for pulling off a spectacular reception for Trump.

“Modi-Trump hug gets tighter,” ran a headline in the Times of India.

But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi on Monday over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy. They say the law is part of a pattern of divisiveness being followed by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

At least 7 people were killed and about 150 injured in the clashes that took place in another part of the capital, away from the center of the city where Modi is hosting Trump.

In his speech on Monday, Trump extolled India’s rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century. “You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country,” he said.

Delhi has also been struggling with high air pollution and on Tuesday the air quality was moderately poor at 193 on a government index that measures pollution up to a scale of 500. The WHO considers anything above 60 as unhealthy.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Aftab Ahmed, Neha Dasgupta; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

‘Namaste Trump’: Modi holds huge rally for president’s visit

By Steve Holland and Alasdair Pal

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Donald Trump was cheered by more than 100,000 Indians at the opening of the world’s largest cricket stadium on Monday, promising “an incredible trade deal” and “the most feared military equipment on the planet” at his biggest rally abroad.

Indians wore cardboard Trump masks and “Namaste Trump” hats to welcome the U.S. president at the huge new Motera stadium in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own political homeland, the western city of Ahmedabad.

Modi, a nationalist who won re-election last year and has shifted his country firmly to the right with policies that his critics decry as authoritarian and ethnically divisive, touts his relationship with Trump as proof of his own global standing.

U.S. officials have described Trump’s visit as a way to counter China’s rise as a superpower.

“You have done a great honor to our country. We will remember you forever, from this day onwards India will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Trump said to thunderous applause.

India is one of the few big countries in world where Trump’s personal approval rating is above 50%. It has built up ties with the United States in recent years as Washington’s relationship has become strained with India’s foe Pakistan.

“As we continue to build our defense cooperation, the United States looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet,” Trump said.

Trump said the two countries will sign deals on Tuesday to sell military helicopters worth $3 billion and that the United States must become the premier defense partner of India, which relied on Russian equipment during the Cold War. Reuters reported earlier that India has cleared the purchase of 24 helicopters from Lockheed Martin <LMT.N> worth $2.6 billion.

But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi – where Trump is due on Tuesday – over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy.

Vehicles were set on fire in the eastern part of Delhi, metal barricades torn down, and thick smoke billowed through the air as thousands of those who are supporting the new law clashed with those opposing it.

In his speech Trump extolled India’s rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century. “You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country,” he said.

Trump planned to raise the issue of religious freedoms in India with Modi, an administration official said last week.

People leave the Sardar Patel Stadium after U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad, India, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

VERY BIG DEALS

In Ahmedabad, Modi embraced Trump as he stepped off Air Force One, along with his wife, Melania.

Folk dancers carrying colorful umbrellas danced alongside the red carpet as drummers, trumpeters and other musicians performed at the airport to welcome Trump and the U.S. delegation. Crowds lined the route along his cavalcade, many taking pictures on their phones.

The two sides did not manage to hammer out a trade deal ahead of the visit, with differences remaining over agriculture, medical devices, digital trade and proposed new tariffs. Trump said he was going to discuss economic ties with Modi, describing him as a tough negotiator.

“We will be making very, very major, among the biggest ever made, trade deals. We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India,” he said.

“And I am optimistic that working together, the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that’s good and even great for both of our countries – except that he is a very tough negotiator.”

Modi, who has built a personal rapport with Trump, is pulling out the stops for the president although prospects for even a limited trade deal during the visit are seen as slim.

“There is so much that we share, shared values and ideals … shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” said Modi at the rally.

Trump, who faces his own re-election campaign this year, has frequently praised Modi for his crowd-pulling power.

Last year, Trump held a “Howdy Modi” rally with Modi in Houston, drawing 50,000 people, mainly Indian Americans. At the time, Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley as a draw for crowds.

Later, Trump and his entourage which includes daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal at sunset. Children lined the route cheering and waving flags as his convoy drove past.

Trump and Melania posed for pictures at the Taj, the 17th century monument to love. “It’s incredible,” he told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta, Euan Rocha in New Delhi, Zeba Siddiqui in Agra; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi looks on during a signing of agreements ceremony at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India January 15, 2018.

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was discussing with India ways to strengthen security cooperation against the menace of from Islamist extremism that both democracies faced.

Netanyahu spoke while on a six-day tour of India, the first by an Israeli premier for 15 years, and is being feted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough posture against terrorism.

India, wary of upsetting Arab nations on which it was dependent for oil, and heeding the sentiments of its own large Muslim minority, kept a distance from Israel for decades. But under Modi, the two sides have embraced a closer relationship based on security and economics.

The right-wing Netanyahu told a security conference that India and Israel were two democracies with a natural affinity, but their open and liberal societies faced risks.

“Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners,” he said.

Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists – in Israel’s case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai region and, in India’s case, mainly from Pakistan. Away from the public eye, India and Israel have been cooperating against the threat through, in part, intelligence sharing, officials say.

“We’ve discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area,” Netanyahu told the conference.

His trip to India comes just six months after Modi made the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, during which he did not go to Ramallah, seat of the self-ruling Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders visiting the region.

Netanyahu toured the Taj Mahal on Tuesday and will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

He will join an 11-year-old Israeli boy, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008, for a memorial event at the Indian financial hub’s Jewish center where the attack took place.

The boy, who lives with his grandparents in Israel, arrived on Tuesday as a guest of Modi.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta; editing by Mark Heinrich)