US envoy set to meet Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Narendra Modi is the main opposition party's candidate for prime minister

US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell is to meet controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi soon, a US State Department spokesman has said.

The move is seen as a significant shift in the US stance towards Mr Modi, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's candidate for prime minister.

Mr Modi was criticised for doing little to prevent 2002 religious riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.

Mr Modi has always denied wrongdoing.

Riots erupted after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire which Muslims were blamed for igniting.

Many Western governments broke off contact with Mr Modi's government after the riots. The US continues to refuse Mr Modi permission to enter the country.

Correspondents say the planned meeting this week is an attempt by the US to build bridges with Mr Modi, whose Hindu nationalist BJP is widely expected to win general elections due by May.

"We can confirm the appointment [between Mr Modi and Ms Powell]," a state department spokesperson told the Press Trust of India news agency, adding that Ms Powell had made the request.

"This is part of our concerted outreach to senior political and business leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship."

The spokesperson did not comment on the possible date of the meeting, which is expected to take place this week in Gujarat's Ahmedabad city.

Under Mr Modi's leadership, Gujarat has been turned into one of India's economic powerhouses.

But Mr Modi continues to be seen as a divisive figure and has not expressed remorse or offered an apology for the 2002 violence.

A 2008 state inquiry exonerated him over the riots but one of his close aides, Maya Kodnani, was jailed for 28 years in August 2012.

Last November, Kodnani was temporarily freed on bail on medical grounds. Reports say she will have to return to custody by Wednesday.

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