Trump hails ‘exceptional’ Modi at huge India rally

Fresh citizenship law clashes in Delhi

Agence France-Presse . Ahmedabad | Published: 01:26, Feb 25,2020


India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, right, and US president Donald Trump greet the crowd during ‘Namaste Trump’ rally at Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on Monday. — AFP photo

US president Donald Trump got a rapturous and romantic welcome to India on Monday, addressing a huge rally and holding hands with his wife at the Taj Mahal, in a maiden official visit big on photo opportunities but short on concrete results.

Casting a cloud over prime minister Narendra Modi’s welcome however, a policeman was killed in clashes in New Delhi over a contentious citizenship law hours before the US president was due in the Indian capital.

Fresh clashes raged in New Delhi in protests over a contentious citizenship law on Monday.

India has seen weeks of demonstrations and violence since a new citizenship law — that critics say discriminates against Muslims — came into force in December.

The latest unrest erupted between several hundred supporters and opponents of the law in a Muslim-dominated area of northeast Delhi on Sunday, and continued into Monday with police seeking to restore order.

The Press Trust of India said protesters torched at least two houses and a fire engine, with local TV channels showing plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings. And two Indian newspapers reported online that a police officer had died.

In the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Trump heaped praise on the Indian right-winger as an ‘exceptional leader, a great champion of India’ in front of a crowd of around 100,000.

‘President Trump’s visit opens a new chapter in our relationship — a chapter that will document the progress and prosperity of the people of America and India,’ Modi said.

Before the speech, Trump and First Lady Melania visited independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, where Modi gifted him a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ three wise monkeys statue.

Later Trump and Melania — in an off-white jump suit and sash alongside her husband in a buttercup-yellow tie — flew to the Taj Mahal for a pre-sunset tour before heading to Delhi ahead of the main talks on Tuesday.

Parts of the Taj Mahal, the marble monument to love that UNESCO calls a ‘jewel of Muslim art’, were given a mud-pack facial to remove stains, while efforts were made to lessen the stench of the adjacent river.

Behind the platitudes and blossoming bromance between the two leaders lies a fraught relationship as Trump’s ‘America First’ drive collides with Modi’s ‘Make in India’ mantra.

Trump has slapped tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods, prompting India to raise duties on US produce such as almonds.

Trump has called India the ‘tariff king’, and said before his visit that Asia’s third-largest economy had been ‘hitting us very, very hard for many, many years’.

Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead sign smaller agreements covering products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and US dairy products.

‘We are in the early stages of discussions for an incredible trade agreement,’ Trump told the rally, calling Modi a ‘very tough negotiator’.

With the US and India sharing concerns about China, the two men were expected to sign a number of defence deals during the visit, and to discuss the supply of six nuclear reactors.

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