Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech in the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament during an official three day visit on November 12, 2015 in London, England.
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November 13, 2015

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the U.K. to help strengthen the economic partnership between the two countries in a speech to the British parliament on Thursday, kicking off a three-day visit that is the first by an Indian head of state since 2006.

Modi stressed that the relationship with the U.K. is one of “immense importance” to India and needs to be enhanced to become “one of the leading global partnerships,” the BBC reported.

He also remarked on the ongoing debate over Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, saying that India sees the U.K. as a vital component of its engagement with the continent.

“Yes, we are going to other European countries as well, but we will continue to consider the U.K. as our entry point to the E.U. as far as possible,” he said.

Modi’s visit comes at a somewhat tumultuous time back home, having just lost a crucial state election in Bihar and facing a chorus of dissent against what many say is growing intolerance in the South Asian nation. The excitement around his arrival — culminating in an address to 60,000 members of India’s diaspora at Wembley Stadium following his lunch with the Queen on Friday — has been tempered by widespread protests around London.

An open letter by the prestigious literary institution English PEN, signed by 200 eminent writers, urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to bring up the issue of India’s diminishing freedom of expression in his talks with Modi on Thursday. Modi was also quizzed about intolerance during a joint press conference held by the two leaders Thursday evening.

“In a country of 1.2 billion people, every incident that happens is a serious incident for us and we do not tolerate such incidents of violence at all,” the Indian Prime Minister responded when asked why India had become an increasingly intolerant place.

“India is a vibrant democracy which, on the basis of the constitution, protects every citizen, and the values of every citizen in accordance with our constitution, and we’re committed to that.”

Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com.

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