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PM to discuss UN reforms in South Africa

india Updated: Sep 30, 2006 21:46 IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he proposed to discuss major UN reforms with South African President Thabo Mbeki during a visit beginning on Saturday meant to commemorate the historic satyagraha campaign Mahatma Gandhi launched in that country a century ago.

Manmohan Singh said in a statement before departing for South Africa that he would exchange views with Mbeki over international issues as "our two countries share a common vision of a cooperative, rule-based multi-polar world order".

"I think South Africa and India have a major role to play in carrying forward the agenda for reforms at the UN, including the expansion of permanent membership of the UN Security Council, so that the interests of the developing world are better reflected and realised," he said.

India has teamed with up with Brazil, Germany and Japan to seek inclusion as permanent members on the UN Security Council.

Manmohan Singh's remarks indicate New Delhi may be trying to rope in South Africa as well in the efforts.

He said he would also meet Nelson Mandela, "whose life and work bear Gandhiji's deep influence".

Manmohan Singh, who is the first Indian prime minister to visit South Africa since IK Gujral did so in 1997, said of Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha campaign: "The philosophy of resisting injustice and oppression by pursuing the path of truth and non-violence was born in South Africa and is a powerful legacy shared by the people of India and South Africa.

"I will visit places which mark some milestones in the Mahatma's remarkable life; the Pietermaritzburg station where he was thrown out of an all-white train compartment, Phoenix Settlement and the Constitution Hill prison where he was incarcerated.

"I will also visit the Umbilo Park Memorial where several years later, brave South Africans opposed the injustice of the apartheid regime."

That event leading to Gandhi's ouster from the train was pivotal in his life and set him firmly on the path of satyagraha, eventually leading to India's freedom 54 years later in 1947.

The prime minister said he would review bilateral relations and the India-South Africa Strategic Partnership with Mbeki.

"I hope to discuss with Mbeki measures that both countries can take to further deepen our partnership."

The statement went on: "South Africa is India's biggest trading partner in the African continent. Many Indian companies are expanding their business presence there. Similarly, I think that there is much that South Africa can offer India.

I hope we will be able to identify steps to enhance our current commercial and economic relationship."

Manmohan Singh will be visiting Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg. He will go to the Phoenix settlement near Durban where the Mahatma started an agricultural commune.

The Phoenix settlement near Durban was inspired in 1904 by John Ruskin's "Unto This Last" and extolled the virtues of the simple life of love, labour and the dignity of human beings.

Exhibitions on Gandhi and pictorial representations of his life story in Durban and Pretoria form part of the prime minister's itinerary.

Manmohan Singh and Mbeki, who met in Brasilia in September for the first summit of IBSA grouping that also comprises Brazil, will discuss the entire gamut of bilateral and global issues, including terrorism and trade.

The two countries are expected to sign a clutch of agreements in the fields of railways, education and cooperation in science and technology.

A preferential trade agreement with South African Customs Union (SACU) and agreements for bilateral investment protection and cooperation in agriculture and sports are also under consideration.

The leaders of the two countries will address a joint press conference before Manmohan Singh flies back on Tuesday.

Meeting representatives of the Indian community - who constitute over one million of the 45.3 million people of the country - and South African business leaders form an important component of the visit.

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