Indian premier Modi pays tribute to Brussels attack victims

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a wreath Wednesday at one of the sites attacked in last week's triple bomb blasts in Brussels, ahead of talks with EU officials focusing on counterterrorism efforts and trade.

"Having experienced terrorist violence ourselves on countless occasions, we share your pain," Modi told Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. "In this time of crisis, the whole of India stands in full support and solidarity with the Belgian people," he added.

One Indian national was among the 32 people killed in the attack on March 22.

Later Wednesday, Modi met with EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for talks expected to focus on trade cooperation and counterterrorism efforts.

The summit in Brussels - the 13th such meeting between the European Union and India - is the first to take place since 2012. New Delhi hopes it will also help to improve relations amid a diplomatic row with Italy.

"The EU is one of our strongest strategic partners," Modi said Wednesday.

Indian diplomats said that both sides were looking to take forward negotiations on Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) talks, which started in 2007 but have stalled since 2013.

Key sticking points in the trade talks include European demands that India remove tariffs on cars and car parts, wine and spirits. The EU is India's largest trading partner.

EU exports to India totalled just over 38 billion euros (42.6 billion dollars) in 2015, while Indian imports to the bloc reached almost 40 billion dollars, according to data released Wednesday by the EU statistics agency Eurostat.

Ahead of the talks, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called on Modi to refrain from agreeing to any trade concessions that could impact the country's production of generic medicines, which tend to be far cheaper than brands marketed by large pharmaceuticals.

"India is an important source for affordable, life-saving generics, upon which the lives of millions of people across the world depend," said Joanne Liu of MSF. "Any strike against this pharmacy of the poor would have catastrophic consequences."

Wednesday's summit is also being seen as an opportunity to patch up relations after a row broke out with EU member state Italy over the trial of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of the Indian state of Kerala in 2012.

Rome says the incident took place in international waters and India has no jurisdiction in the case, while India says it took place within its jurisdiction and the men should be tried in India. The case has strained India's ties with the EU as well.

The United Nations' International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has been called to settle the jurisdiction row. On Wednesday, the court was hearing a request from Italy to allow one of its marines still held in India to be allowed to return home.

Following his Brussels visit, Modi is set to participate in the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington between March 31 and April 1, before travelling to the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 2.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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