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Australian PM's India visit cancelled due to bushfires

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison tours the Wildflower farm in Sarsfield, Victoria (Photo: Reuters)Premium
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison tours the Wildflower farm in Sarsfield, Victoria (Photo: Reuters)

  • Scott Morrison was scheduled to hold extensive bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the visit during his 13-16 Jan visit
  • Morrison was also scheduled to deliver the inaugural address at the Raisina Dialogue, the flagship annual lecture series organised by the MEA

New Delhi: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday called off his visit to India later this month due to the devastating bushfire crisis in his country. News of the visit being called off came after Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi held a telephone conversation earlier in the day.

Massive fires have been ripping through swathes of the Australia’s south-east for weeks with fire fighters and volunteers struggling to bring them under control. The fires have killed at least 20 people and stranded holidaymakers, according to news reports.

A person familiar with the developments on Friday said Morrison had cancelled his 13-16 January visit as a consequence.

Earlier on Friday, Morrison during a press conference in Bairnsdale in Victoria said that he was “inclined not to proceed with that visit (to India)", a PTI report said.

A statement from Modi’s office said the two prime ministers had a telephonic conversation earlier on Friday during which the Indian prime minister “conveyed his heartfelt condolences" for the damage to life and property in Australia due to severe and prolonged bushfires.

“Expressing his satisfaction at the progress in bilateral relations in recent years, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s commitment to strengthen its strategic partnership with Australia. He stated that to this end, he looked forward to welcoming the Prime Minister of Australia in India on a State Visit at early mutual convenience," the statement said.

Australian authorities on Thursday declared a state of emergency and forced evacuation of residents, tourists and closure of roads in the bushfire zones in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Last month, Morrison had attracted public ire when he was reported to be holidaying in Hawaii when the bush fires started ravaging the countryside. He had to cut short his holiday and return home, news reports said.

Morrison was a key guest at this year’s Raisina Dialogue -- an annual event modelled on Singapore’s Shangrila Dialogue and hosted by the Indian foreign ministry and the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, a think tank, which attracts security and strategic experts from all parts of the world.

According to Indian and Australian officials, the two countries were expected to boost their security cooperation with both sides inking a logistics agreement that would facilitate visits by Indian naval ships to Australian ports.

New Delhi was also expected to discuss the restart of talks on a trade pact with Australia that had been put on hold following India entering the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks with Southeast Asian countries and others including China, Australia and New Zealand. In November, India said it was not joining the pact that would have created one of the world’s largest free trade areas.

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