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Gauck visits India, avoids Sochi

German President Joachim Gauck has begun a visit to India by laying a wreath for India's freedom campaigner Mahatma Gandhi who was assassinated in 1948. Gauck chose to visit India instead of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Gauck was welcomed with military honors in New Delhi on Wednesday by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee (pictured left) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right). The German head of state whose role is often ceremonial called for closer ties between India and Gemany.

The German president, who was a Lutheran pastor and rights activist in the former communist East Germany, then visited the New Delhi site where the independence campaigner Gandhi was cremated in 1948 after his assassination.

In the commemorative book for Gandhi, Gauck wrote that Gandhi's "path of nonviolent resistance against injustice was, is and will in the future motivate people in the entire world and give them inspiration and hope."

Gauck was later due to hold talks with Indian Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh. Accompanying Gauck is a high-ranking German business delegation, German development aid minister Gerd Müller and Gauck's partner Daniela Schadt.

The German president is scheduled to fly on to Myanmar on Sunday after a stopover in India's high-tech industrial hub of Bangalore.

Gauck's trip follows a visit to New Delhi two weeks ago by Shinzo Abe, the prime of minister of

Japan, which is India's fourth largest investor.

The Indo-German Chamber of Commerce says two-way trade between Germany and India has soared to 17.6 billion euros since 1991, when India opened up its markets.

India instead of Sochi

In December, Gauck announced - without elaborating - that he would stay away from the Winter Olympics in Russia, which opens in Sochi on Friday.

His decision was widely interpreted in Germany as a comment on Russia's human rights record under President Vladimir Putin.

Gauck has made no official visit to Russia since he took office in 2012.

On Monday, German alpine ski medal hope Felix Neureuther said he had difficultly understanding Gauck's non-attendance.

Instead, he could have used the opportunity to speak to the "right people there with Putin," Neureuther told the German tabloid newspaper Bild.

'Greater role' for Germany

Last week at an international security conference in Munich, Gauck issued an

appeal for Germany to play a greater role on the world stage.

"Germany should engage as a good partner earlier, more decisively and more substantially," he told top foreign diplomats and defense leaders, referring to Africa and "the east."

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, has long struck to an approach of "military restraint," given its wartime history.

Germany, which is a major contributor to the UN's budget, is seeking a seat in the UN Council on Human Rights

It also hopes to be elected to a two-year stint as a member of the UN Security Council, in 2019-20.

ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, AP)

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