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Politics

India's conspicuous absence amplifies undemocratic voices

JAKARTA -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat out this week's Asia-Africa summit to prioritize commitments at home, ceding the limelight to countries less democratically inclined.

     Modi wrote Indonesian President Joko Widodo with regrets for not attending the meeting, which began Wednesday. He cited prior travel commitments and the resumption of parliamentary proceedings in India. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj represented the country instead.

     The landmark Bandung Conference in 1955, which brought together leaders of Asia and Africa, was spearheaded by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, along with Indonesia's Sukarno and China's Zhou Enlai. But Modi saw this year's summit as a lower priority than his recent tour of France, Germany and Canada, which yielded deals on fighter jet and uranium sales.

     South Korean President Park Geun-hye skipped the summit for a tour of South America.

Holding forth

The no-show by India, the world's largest democracy, left center stage open to countries with strong authoritarian and anti-Western streaks.

     Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe co-chaired the first session with Widodo. The 91-year-old, who has ruled the African nation since 1987, has drawn Western criticism and is close to the Chinese and Iranian leadership. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani co-chaired the second session.

     Also attending was President Thein Sein of Myanmar, which was still under military rule at the Asia-Africa summit a decade ago. Myanmar was a host of the original 1955 conference. This time around, Thein Sein drew applause when called to the stage at the start of the event.

     Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea's parliament, blew past his five-minute time limit with a 20-minute speech in which he insisted that the country's nuclear weapons have deterred war on the Korean Peninsula.

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