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Angela Merkel plans to boost relations with India in business, science and politics

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday she plans to boost relations with India in the areas of business, science and politics.

Merkel, on her first visit to India, was to meet with the country's top leaders Tuesday. The two countries will sign agreements in defense cooperation, science and technology and intellectual property rights.

Merkel told reporters after a ceremonial reception at India's presidential palace that she hoped her visit would enhance "the very strong relationship between India and Germany," and that the two nations would see increased cooperation in the fields of politics, economics and science.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded by saying that India seeks the support of Germany "in our quest to get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease."

He called Merkel "a great statesman ... a great friend of our country."

Merkel and Singh inaugurated the "Science Express" train that will travel across India for a year highlighting the two countries' cooperation in science and technology.

An Indo-German Science and Technology Research Center will be created to facilitate cooperation in industrial and basic research, said India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna.

Merkel was to hold separate meetings Tuesday with President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, and the leader of the opposition Lal Krishna Advani.

Among the topics likely to be discussed were terrorism, climate change and closer cooperation between the G-8 and leading developing nations like India. Germany currently holds the G-8 presidency.

Merkel was also scheduled to meet Indian business leaders over lunch.

She was accompanied by a 30-member delegation including the new chief of industrial conglomerate Siemens AG, Peter Loescher, and senior managers from chemical company BASF and the Deutsche Bahn railroad firm.

Germany has been focused on China for a long time - Merkel has visited China twice so far in her chancellorship - but India also "is a dramatically growing country" with great economic perspectives, Merkel told a conference in Berlin on Friday. "We just have to get involved."

She will also visit Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital, where she will meet top Indian business leaders on Wednesday.

Trade between Germany and India amounts to US$15.1 billion (EUR10.5 billion ) annually, although India only ranks as the nation's 29th most important trading partner.

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