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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 11:03 GMT

World: South Asia

Indian president calls for understanding

The long range, nuclear-capable, Agni missile on show for the first time

The Indian president has said Indians of all religions should be able to live peacefully according to the country's constitution.

His speech, recorded on the eve of Republic Day on Tuesday, was broadcast on Indian state television.

His comments follow a wave of attacks on Christians in India.

An Australian missionary and his two sons who were burnt to death at the weekend in an attack allegedly led by Hindu extremists.

[ image: Part of the protest against religious intolerance]
Part of the protest against religious intolerance
President KR Narayanan said in his address that Indian unity was based on a tradition "of tolerance, which is at once a pragmatic concept for living together and a philosophical concept of finding truth and goodness in every religion".

"Long ago, Mahatma Gandhi put it very simply and I quote: 'I do not expect the India of my dream to develop one religion, that is, to be wholly Hindu, or wholly Christian, or wholly Mussalman (Muslim), but I wanted it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another'."

He described the latest murder "a monumental aberration from India's traditions of tolerance".

Nuclear republic

[ image: The medium range Prithvi nuclear missile]
The medium range Prithvi nuclear missile
This year India celebrates its first Republic Day as a declared nuclear power and the president watched the traditional display of military hardware, including new intermediatiate range ballistic missiles, on Rajpath boulevard in the centre of New Dehli.

But in his presidential address, he said India believed as passionately as ever in the comprehensive disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Narayanan also called on the country to do more to eliminate social and gender inequality as it entered the 50th year of its existence as a republic.

He said India had achieved political equality and asked " How long shall we deny equality in our social and economic life?"

Unrest in Assam

Seven separatist rebel groups in the northeast Indian state of Assam called for a boycott of the Republic Day celebrations. Business was hit by a 17-hour general strike in Assam on Tuesday.

Three policemen were killed in the northern district of Sibsadar and another oil pipeline blown up despite tight security. The outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam says it carried out the attacks. The separatists accuse Delhi of plundering the region's resources without improving life for the local community.

There were also outbreaks of violence in the neighbouring states of Manipur and Tripura.

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