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Modi hugs Trudeau amid Indo-Canada invitation embarrassment

February 23, 2018

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrives at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on Friday with a hug, one day after embarrassed Canadian diplomats had to revoke a party invitation for a man convicted of attempting to kill an Indian politician.

The invitation was the latest blunder in Trudeau’s eight-day visit, which has included everything from criticism of his colorful wardrobe to questions about whether his government is sufficiently critical of Sikh extremists.

Jaspal Atwal, a Canada-based former member of a banned Sikh separatist group, had been invited by a Canadian member of Parliament to a Thursday evening party for Trudeau at Canada’s High Commission in New Delhi.

Atwal was convicted of trying to kill an Indian Cabinet minister during a 1986 visit to Canada. The minister was shot but survived. Atwal was imprisoned, and became a businessman after his release.

Canada quickly withdrew the invitation once it was discovered, with Trudeau telling reporters: “Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously. The individual in question never should have received an invitation.”

Earlier in the week, Atwal attended a Mumbai reception at which he was photographed with Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

Modi still welcomed Trudeau on Friday with his signature bear hug, smiling at his wife and their three children, who also attended the formal outdoor ceremony.

In a Thursday night tweet, Modi said he looked forward to meeting Trudeau and his family, adding “I appreciate his deep commitment to ties between our two countries.”

But it hasn’t been an easy trip for Trudeau in many ways.

Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper flayed the Trudeau government for the invitation, calling it “a spectacular gaffe that exacerbated an already troubled weeklong excursion.”

Trudeau has been ridiculed in India on social media for his family’s seemingly endless wardrobe changes, with the photogenic group often appearing in matching and colorful Indian clothing, and has faced repeated insistence that he denounce Sikh extremism.

“Sikh radicalism is the main issue,” the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest newspapers, said in an editorial earlier this week. “Justin Trudeau should allay India’s concerns on terrorism.”

Canada has a small but politically potent Sikh population, some of whom support a breakaway Sikh state, known as Khalistan, inside India. The Indian media often describe Trudeau’s government as being soft on the Khalistan issue.

Trudeau insisted that he’d told Indian politicians that was not true. “I was pleased to be able to make very, very clear that Canada supports one united India,” he said after one meeting.

Later Friday, the two countries signed agreements for cooperation in security, trade and higher education, including making it easier for exchanges of students and teachers. Canada is one of the most sought-after destinations by Indians for their studies.

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