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Indian PM Narendra Modi gets rockstar welcome in Sydney

About 20,000 members of Australia’s Indian community gave a rapturous stadium welcome to Anthony Albanese and Narendra Modi as police quelled a protest outside.

The two prime ministers were constantly cheered at the Olympic Park rally on Tuesday evening ahead of more formal talks between the pair planned for Wednesday.

“The last time I saw someone on this stage was Bruce Springsteen and he did not get the welcome that Prime Minister Modi has got,” Mr Albanese told the crowd. “Prime Minister Modi is the boss.”

Outside, a group of about 60 protesters voiced their anger with the Indian prime minister over human rights.

On Wednesday, Mr Albanese and Governor-General David Hurley will meet with Mr Modi at Kirribilli ahead of bilateral talks.

The prime ministers are expected to discuss trade, defence and renewable energy as both nations seek to strengthen relations.

Business leaders and delegates will also meet with Mr Modi during what marks his first visit to Australia in 10 years and the two prime ministers’ sixth meeting in 12 months.

Mr Albanese announced a new centre for Australia-India relations to help foster ties and strengthen relations between both nations.

It would be based in Parramatta, “a place that itself is a testament to the vitality of the Indian-Australian experience”.

“We want to see more connections, more Australian and Indian students living and studying in each other’s countries and bringing those experiences home.”

The prime ministers also unveiled a plaque for the foundation stone of the Little India gateway in Sydney’s Harris Park.

A roaring crowd of about 20,000 members of Australia’s Indian community attended the stadium to welcome Mr Modi, in what marked his first visit in 10 years and the prime ministers’ sixth meeting in 12 months.

Mr Albanese said on Tuesday he hoped trade discussions concerning the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement, which began in 2011, would conclude this year and said ties on renewable energy, critical minerals, security and defence were growing.

Mr Albanese also credited the Indian diaspora living in Australia, including about 700,000 people born on the subcontinent, for strengthening the local democracy.

“They have brought the spirit of the world’s largest democracy to Australia and helped make our democracy stronger and more inclusive,” he said.

As crowds gathered outside Sydney Superdome hours before the evening rally, Mr Modi met business leaders including billionaires Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest.

He also discussed infrastructure investment in India and how Australia manages retirement pensions with Paul Schroder, the head of the country’s largest superannuation fund, AustralianSuper.

But alleged human rights abuses are what some want on the agenda during the whistle-stop tour.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Elaine Pearson has urged Australia to not to repeat the “same mistakes it made with the Chinese government by pursuing deeper trade engagement while sidelining human rights concerns”.

Asked whether human rights should be on the agenda, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said India was a large democracy that shared values with Australia.

“We have never had a greater strategic alignment with India than we do right now. Both countries are deeply invested in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“And all of this is driving a much closer relationship between (the) two countries.”

India has snubbed global calls to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow remaining a large arms supplier to New Delhi.

Mr Marles used a speech at a defence summit on Monday to say Australia needed to confront “inconvenient truths” with China, as Canberra works to balance competing trade interests with the possibility of military confrontation.

Asked whether the Indian relationship should be approached the same way when it came to calling out human rights abuses and crackdowns on freedom of speech, Mr Marles said the two nations were starkly different.

“We’re talking about two very different situations,” he said.

“We share values with India. India is a democracy.

“I’m not about to go through what will be said or not said in the conversation between our two prime ministers tomorrow, theirs is a very fulsome and open relationship.”

-AAP

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