Marseilles (France), Sept.29 : Seeking to defend his UPA Government on the issue of the recent attacks on Christians in Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said on Monday that every community in India had a right to practice its religious beliefs, and violence to curb these beliefs would be firmly dealt with.
Addressing a joint press conference here with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Dr. Singh said: "With regard to the Christian minority in India, let me say India is a secular state. We are a country which is multi racial, multi religious and the Constitution of India guarantees to all citizens of India the freedom and right to profess and propagate the religion of their choice."
"There have been sporadic incidents in some parts of our country, but our government has taken a firm position. I have myself condemned these acts as a national shame," he added.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "We applauded the reaction of the Indian authorities vis--vis recent events where Christians in India were attacked. I know this is an internal matter. We also appreciate the strength and clarity with which the Prime Minister has condemned the attacks."
French President Nicholas Sarkozy defined the attacks on Christians as a "massacre", but appreciated the Indian Government's response to the attacks.
Both leaders also sounded positive about the signing of the bilateral civil nuclear agreement tomorrow in Paris.
Sarkozy said: "I have always believed India will be a major power in the next twenty or thirty years. India will be the first power in terms of demography, and I don't know how we can tell our Indian friends to participate in fighting climate change without giving them civil nuclear energy when you know it is the cleanest form of energy. It makes no sense, France trusts India, we trust the Prime Minister of India has done a great deal to enable India to have access to civil nuclear energy, and we welcome the fact that this is developing and tomorrow have the great pleasure of welcoming the Indian PM and in most likelihood, we will discuss the matter and take decisions".
India and the European Union have decided to raise their annual trade turnover to 100 billion Euros from under 50 billion Euros at present over the next five years. Both have also decided to conclude a bilateral agreement on broad based trade and introduce an investment agreement by 2009.
Both India and the European Union called for the introduction of a new international financial mechanism to end the current global economic crisis. Sarkozy, in particular, called for an international meeting to mull over the new mechanism.
Dr. Singh and the EU leadership also discussed the situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. India has openly condemned the Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions for the first time, reiterating that the country must not violate its NPT obligations. By Naveen Kapoor