Political tension rises as ElBaradei begins India visit

Updated on Oct 09, 2007 01:20 PM IST

UN atomic energy chief Mohammed ElBaradei lands in Mumbai amid a spike in tensions between Cong and its allies over N-deal.

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AFP | By, Mumbai

UN atomic energy chief Mohammed ElBaradei began a three-day visit to India on Tuesday as the country's ruling coalition appeared headed for a break-up over a civil nuclear energy pact with the United States.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head landed in the western commercial hub of Mumbai late on Monday amid a spike in tensions between the ruling Congress party and its communist allies.

The government says the deal with Washington, which would allow energy-hungry India to buy nuclear energy technology while possessing weapons despite not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is vital for sustained economic growth.

But India's left-wing argues it will pull traditionally non-aligned India uncomfortably close to the US and compromise New Delhi's military programme, and have threatened to bring down the government if the pact is "operationalised."

ElBaradei's visit includes trips to Indian nuclear facilities such as the premier Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said SK Malhotra, spokesman for the department of atomic energy.

On Wednesday he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, who appears to be steaming ahead with starting talks with the IAEA on a special pact that will allow the deal to be implemented.

Officials say New Delhi must clinch the IAEA pact in the coming weeks to meet a deadline to get final approval for the agreement from the US Congress.

A 15-member panel of Congress party and communist lawmakers set up to iron out differences between the two sides is to meet in New Delhi later on Tuesday in an attempt to bridge the differences. Three previous meetings have failed to result in a compromise.

The communists have also called for a special internal meeting on October 18 to discuss the next course of action, fuelling speculation that early elections are imminent.

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