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ASIA: Clinton urges global terror fight, honours Mumbai victims

By Lachlan Carmichael
Sun Jul 19 04:41:18 EST 2009

MUMBAI, July 18 AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global fight against terrorism after paying tribute to victims of last year's deadly Mumbai attacks, as she began a visit to India.

Clinton, on her first trip to India as Washington's top diplomat, linked the attacks which left 166 people dead to those in the United States on September 11, 2001 and Friday's deadly hotel bombings in Jakarta.

"These events are seared in our collective memory," she told a news conference on Saturday at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, where she is staying and where 31 guests and staff lost their lives during the Islamist militant siege.

"Yesterday's bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia, provide a painful reminder that the threat of such violent extremism is still very real. It's global, ruthless, it's nihilistic and it must be stopped.

"The United States will work with the Indian government, the Indonesian government and other nations and peoples to seek peace and security and confront and defeat these violent extremists."

Clinton, who spoke on the hotel terrace where bodies were found when the siege ended, told India's Times Now television that she chose the Taj to send a message of solidarity with the hotel employees and the people of Mumbai.

It was also "a rebuke to the terrorists who may have tragically taken lives but did not destroy the spirit (and) resilience of the people of this city or nation," she told her interviewer.

In a private meeting, Clinton earlier met 13 members of staff from the Taj and the nearby Trident-Oberoi hotels, including Taj general manager Karambir Kang, whose wife and two sons died in the tragedy.

Despite losing his family, he continued to work and direct rescue operations.

Clinton said she was "deeply touched" to meet the employees and to pay her respects at the memorial to the victims at the landmark waterfront hotel.

"Both our people have experienced the senseless and searing effects of violent extremism," she wrote in a condolence book.

"Now it is up to all nations and people who seek peace and progress to work together. Let us rid the world of hatred and extremism that produces such nihilistic violence. Our future deserves no less."

Counter-terrorism is one of a number of issues on Clinton's agenda, alongside tackling nuclear proliferation and climate change plus opening up trade and new markets.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Egypt this week, agreeing to cooperate to fight extremism.

But he was quickly accused back home of making too many concessions to Pakistan, which is charged with harbouring Islamist extremists who allegedly trained, equipped and financed the Mumbai gunmen.

Clinton denied that President Barack Obama's administration is pressuring India into seeking peace with Pakistan so Islamabad can focus entirely on defeating the raging Islamist insurgency on its border with Afghanistan -- a US priority.

"The US... is very supportive of steps that the governments take but we are not in any way involved in or promoting any particular position," she told the news conference.

Indian Kashmir's top separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, urged Washington to help New Delhi and Islamabad resolve their rival claims to the territory, the issue dominating ties since the sub-continent was split in 1947.

Peace in South Asia cannot be achieved "without a resolution of (the) core issue of Kashmir", Mirwaiz, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference -- an umbrella of Kashmiri separatists groups -- said in a statement.

US President Barack Obama's administration is keen to go far beyond security to bolster a range of ties with India, which it sees as a key regional and global power.

After meeting key business leaders, Clinton, who has stated that women and development are as essential to foreign policy as diplomacy and defence, met members of an organisation that helps pull rural women out of poverty.

She also met leading Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who is ambassador for an education charity.

Clinton's visit could see an announcement on the two locations India has chosen for US firms to build multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants, aides said.

Indo-US relations were frosty during the Cold War and deteriorated after New Delhi tested an atom bomb in 1998 but thawed after former US president George W Bush signed a civilian nuclear technology deal with India last year.