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British prime minister throws 'historic' Diwali party

world Updated: Oct 17, 2009 20:27 IST

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The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday threw open the doors of 10 Downing Street to hundreds of Indians for a Diwali celebration he said marked a "historic" and "great" day for Britain.

The reception hosted by Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah capped a week of Diwali celebrations across the British political establishment in a tribute to the contributions made by the estimated two million people of Indian origin living in Britain.

"This is a great day for Downing Street and a great day for Britain. For centuries Diwali has been celebrated - this is a historic event," a garlanded Brown said after lighting a Diwali lamp.

"I want to thank you for everything that you do. It's such a privilege for us to have you here, I want to thank each one of you individually. And I look forward to having Diwali at Downing Street every year again."

"It's a great day because we can celebrate what you're doing. We can celebrate your contribution to the success of our country and to the relations between Britain and India," Brown told his delighted guests who had gathered in the front room of 10 Downing Street, the British premier's official residence in the heart of central London.

Many travelled from hundreds from kilometres away, and carried Diwali gifts for Gordon and Sarah Brown.

They formed a colourful and snaking queue outside the heavily-protected Downing Street.

Inside, a live performance of Indian classical music on the sitar and tabla gave the premier's traditional English residence a distinctly Indian flavour.

Brown paid handsome tributes to the contributions made by Indians in all walks of British life, naming business and industry, arts and culture, education and the voluntary sector

"You are helping to train a new generation, and making our country more tolerant.

"You are making this huge contribution to the furtherance of our country. We celebrate hope for the future - we are talking about the great things that can happen everywhere in the world," Brown said.

Keith Vaz, Britain's longest-serving MP of Indian origin, told the guests: "We are all here as witnesses to history - a Diwali celebration in the best address in the best city in the best country in the world."

The event climaxed a week of celebrations - including receptions in the parliament - turning Diwali into a feature of mainstream life in Britain.

Many of the guests were overawed by the occasion: "I was just thinking, could any of this have been imaginable 100 years ago?" said Atul Shah, a solicitor, standing beneath a giant portrait of Elizabeth I, the 16th century Tudor Queen.