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Maldives President calls India ‘our closest friend’

– India extends USD 1.4-bn assistance The new president of the Maldives has called India the island nation’s closest friend, welcome words for New Delhi after years of Beijing’s growing economic influence.

The Press Trust of India news agency reports that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, speaking Sunday in New Delhi, said India “is not only our closest friend, it is also our largest trading partner.”

Solih defeated strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly closer ties to China, in a September election.

India has long seen the Indian Ocean nation as part of its sphere of influence. China, though, sees the Maldives as part of its “Belt and Road” infrastructure programs, which follow ancient trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. Beijing has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Maldives.

India extends USD 1.4 billion assistance to Maldives ::

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced USD 1.4 billion financial assistance to Maldives after he held extensive talks with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih during which both sides vowed to deepen security cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

The two countries also inked four pacts, including one on visa facilitation.

“We held successful talks in a cordial atmosphere. We vowed to strengthen ties,” Modi said in his press statement, with Solih by his side.

He also said the security interests of the two countries were intertwined and both sides will work together to further strengthen cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

“We will not allow our countries to be used for activities which can be harmful to each other’s interests,” Modi asserted.

The prime minister said India is extending USD 1.4 billion as budget support, currency swap and line of credit for the social and economic development of Maldives.

“We want greater trade ties with Maldives. There are increasing opportunities for Indian companies in the island nation,” he said.

On his part, Solih said the two sides agreed to strengthen maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean region through coordinated patrol and aerial surveillance.

Solih arrived here Sunday on a three-day state visit, his first foreign trip after assuming the charge of the top office in the island nation a month ago.

Modi had attended Solih’s swearing-in ceremony on November 17.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on Solih and discussed bilateral and regional issues of mutual interests.

Relations between India and the Maldives deteriorated after then president Abdulla Yameen imposed emergency on February 5 this year.

India had criticised his decision and asked his government to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners. The emergency lasted for 45 days.

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