Manmohan Singh a 'Dear Friend', Says Abe

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tonight hosted a private dinner for his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, who described him as one of his mentors and a "dear friend".

The dinner at the Prime Minister's official residence at 7 Race Course Road was attended by Abe and his wife Akie, who joined Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur.

Abe had hosted a similar dinner for Singh and his wife during the Indian leader's visit to Japan in May last year.

Tomohiko Taniguchi, Councillor in Japan's Cabinet Secretariat and part of Abe's delegation, said the premier's trip to India was to pay tribute to the "tremendous accomplishments" of Singh.

He told reporters that Abe regards Singh as a "dear friend".

Talking about the significance of Abe's visit, he said, "First of all it is to pay tribute to the tremendous accomplishments of Prime Minister Singh, who Shinzo Abe has for many years regarded as one of his mentors. Knowing that Prime Minister Singh is soon ending his political career, Shinzo Abe wanted to pay a tribute to him."

Taniguchi recalled Abe's 2007 visit to India, during which his health had deteriorated.

"To me Abe looks like a born-again politician not in the religious sense of the word but in the physical terms," he said.

"When he was in India as Prime Minister in 2007, it was very much a bitter-sweet experience for him, the speech he delivered at the joint session of (Parliament) was applauded...But during his trip his illness became really really worse. As a result he stepped down as Prime Minister upon returning to Japan," Taniguchi said.

The Japanese official spoke about gestures made by Singh that left a "lasting impression" on Abe. "When Abe was ill during his India trip in 2007, Singh showed a sympathetic attitude," he said.

When Abe made his next visit to India while not in office, Singh was just about to leave for a UN General Assembly session. However, Singh arranged for five to six Cabinet members to meet Abe at short notice, Taniguchi said.

"Prime Minister Singh, you are much older than me, sometimes you look like a teacher and yet you are the one I can call a dear friend," Taniguchi quoted Abe as saying during their meeting in Tokyo.

Singh and Abe held extensive talks here yesterday on bilateral, regional and global issues.

Abe, 59, today became the first Japanese Prime Minister to attend India's Republic Day celebrations as chief guest.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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