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June 23, 2017

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British government ends 10-year boycott of Indian minister

AHMEDABAD, India--Britain held talks Monday with Indian regional leader Narendra Modi, ending a 10-year boycott over deadly religious riots in Gujarat state that left more than 2,000 dead, including three Britons.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist who is tipped as a possible future prime minister, came to power in Gujarat shortly before the 2002 riots and is accused of doing little to prevent India's worst religious violence since independence.

After the riots, Britain stopped dealing directly with Modi but the government this month changed its policy and announced that its ambassador to India, James Bevan, would travel to Gujarat.

"This is about engagement, it is not about endorsement," Bevan told reporters after the meeting.

"If you want to engage effectively with an Indian state ... you need to engage with the chief minister."

Bevan said Britain was keen to improve its overall relations with India and he also noted that several public figures had recently been found guilty over the riots.

Modi's office said the discussions included opportunities for British companies in Gujarat, one of India's flagship states for attracting foreign direct investment.

"Had a great meeting ... to strengthen Guj-UK ties in economic and social sectors," Modi said on Twitter.

The riots in 2002 were triggered by the deaths of nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire that was initially blamed on a mob of Muslims.

When Britain announced it would end the boycott, the government said it still wanted "to secure justice for the families of the British nationals who were killed in 2002."

Bevan on Monday also stressed the well-established ties with Gujarat due to large numbers of Indian-origin families who have migrated to Britain from the state.

But Tanveer Jaffery, whose father was killed in the riots, said that the British government needed to fully explain the end of the boycott.

"There was a gross violation of human rights in 2002 when the state machinery connived with the rioters," Jaffery told AFP.

"This move is surprising. What assessment has the British made of the Modi government to compel them to change their stance?"

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