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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

India will fight foreign threats, Modi vows

Security is India's top priority, the Indian prime minister told his nation during the Independence Day speech

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi arriving to address the nation from the historic Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi, India on August 15, 2017. Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi arriving to address the nation from the historic Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi, India on August 15, 2017. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

India can defend itself from anyone who seeks "to act against our country", prime minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday at an Independence Day speech amid a tense standoff with Beijing over a Himalayan plateau.

"Security is our top priority," Mr Modi said before thousands at the landmark Red Fort in New Delhi as the country marked the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule.

"Be it the sea or the borders, cyber or space - in all spheres, India is capable and we are strong enough to overcome those who try to act against our country," the Hindu nationalist leader declared.

His remarks came as New Delhi's dispute with Beijing over a strategically key Himalayan plateau enters its third month on Wednesday, with hundreds of soldiers reported to be facing off against each other.

The neighbours share a long history of mistrust and went to war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. They are still embroiled in a dispute over the territory.

India is also mired in a border row with Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since their bitter split in 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of sending "terrorists" across the border to fight security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir which is divided between the rival neighbours. Kashmir has been a source of conflict between them, since their creation upon the partition of British-ruled India in 1947.

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Read more:

In pictures: India marks Independence Day

India: 70 years of independence

British subcontinental communities continue to face colonial-era attitudes

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During his speech, Mr Modi appeared conciliatory towards the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir, where violent protests against Indian rule have erupted over the past year. He said neither "name-calling nor bullets" would be enough to pacify the region, an instead, what was needed were "hugs" for Kashmiris.

He also called on Indians to reject religious violence, following a series of attacks against minorities which sparked debate about whether a surge of Hindu nationalism is undermining the country's secular ideals.

Mr Modi has spoken out against attacks by right-wing Hindus, many of whom back his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against minority Muslims and lower-caste Hindus accused of killing cows, considered holy by the majority Hindus.

But the setting of his denunciation of violence on Tuesday was significant.

"We will not tolerate violence in the name of faith," Mr Modi said before a teeming crowd at the fort and a huge television audience.

He also expressed pain over the death of at least 60 children in a state-run hospital last week amid shortages of supplies - a reminder much remains to be done on India's journey to development.

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