Clinton honours Mumbai victims

MUMBAI: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday paid tribute to victims of last year's Mumbai attacks, calling for a global fight to combat the scourge of terror as she began a visit to India.

Clinton, on her first trip to India as Washington's top diplomat, linked the attacks which left 166 people dead to those in the United States on September 11, 2001 and Friday's deadly hotel bombings in Jakarta.

"These events are seared in our collective memory," she told a news conference at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, where she is staying and where 31 guests and staff lost their lives during the Islamist militant siege.

"Yesterday's bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia provide a painful reminder that the threat of such violent extremism is still very real. It's global, ruthless, it's nihilistic and it must be stopped.

"The United States will work with the Indian government, the Indonesian government and other nations and peoples to seek peace and security and confront and defeat these violent extremists."

In a private meeting, Clinton earlier met 13 members of staff from the Taj and the nearby Trident-Oberoi hotels, including Taj general manager Karambir Kang, whose wife and two sons died in the tragedy.

Despite losing his family, he continued to work and direct rescue operations.

Clinton said she was "deeply touched" to meet the employees and to pay her respects at the memorial to the victims at the landmark waterfront hotel.

"Both our people have experienced the senseless and searing effects of violent extremism," she wrote in a condolence book.

"Now it is up to all nations and people who seek peace and progress to work together. Let us rid the world of hatred and extremism that produces such nihilistic violence. Our future deserves no less."

Counter-terrorism is one of a number of issues on Clinton's agenda, alongside tackling nuclear proliferation and climate change plus opening up trade and new markets.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousef Raza Gilani in Egypt this week, agreeing to cooperate to fight extremism.

But the 76-year-old premier's stance has led to accusations at home that he made too many concessions to Pakistan, which is accused of harbouring extremists who allegedly trained, equipped and financed the Mumbai attacks.

Clinton denied that President Barack Obama's administration was pressuring India into seeking peace with Pakistan so the latter could focus entirely on beating an Islamist insurgency on its border with Afghanistan, a US priority.

"The US... is very supportive of steps that the governments take but we are not in any way involved in or promoting any particular position," she told the news conference.

US President Barack Obama's administration is keen to go far beyond security to bolster a range of ties with a country it sees as a key regional and global power.

Clinton met key business leaders in Mumbai and is also meeting members of a non-governmental organisation that promotes women in work and educational professionals as part of her desire to deepen ties "beyond government".

Indo-US relations were frosty during the Cold War and deteriorated after New Delhi tested an atom bomb in 1998 but thawed after former US president George W. Bush signed a civilian nuclear technology deal with India last year.

Clinton's visit could see an announcement of the two locations India has chosen for US firms to build multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants, aides said.