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Wednesday, May 27, 1998 Published at 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK

India 'committed to restraint'

About 200 anti-nuclear protesters tried to storm parliament before the meeting

The Indian Prime Minister, Behari Vajpayee, has said India is committed to restraint and ready to discuss a 'no first use' agreement on nuclear weapons with Pakistan and other countries.

BBC correspondent Daniel Lak reports from Delhi
He also said India was now capable of producing nuclear weapons to deter aggression from Pakistan and China, but that it was only interested in self-defence and was committed to international disarmament.

[ image: Atal Behari Vajpayee: weapons not intended for aggression]
Atal Behari Vajpayee: weapons not intended for aggression
Mr Vajpayee was speaking in parliament, which is meeting for the first time since India conducted a series of nuclear tests that prompted widespread international criticism and led to economic sanctions by a number of countries.

"We do not intend to use these weapons for aggression, or for mounting threats against any country. These are weapons of self-defence to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threat or coercion," he said.

The prime minister said his decision to order open testing of India's nuclear weapons capability violated no international laws and was the logical outcome of the past 50 years of Indian foreign policy.

Prime Minister Vajpayee says India is committed to restraint
In a related document filed in parliament, Mr Vajpayee renewed India's suggestion, first made in 1994, of a no first use of nuclear weapons agreement with Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

Parliamentarians thumped their desks enthusiastically when Mr Vajpayee called for a show of support for the scientists behind the tests.

The BBC correspondent in Delhi said his appeal for continued consensus before a hushed parliament was a strong symbol of Indian support for nuclear testing.

Critics not convinced

Congress Party spokesman Salman Khursheed: believe tests were not justified
However, opposition politicians have been criticising the government's stance, arguing that the government was motivated to carry out nuclear tests by domestic politics, not national security.

A senior Congress MP has said there was no evidence of declining national security at the time of the tests and the motive was to build domestic political support.

International condemnation is also continuing to grow, with the Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, saying that India's decision to test a nuclear bomb means that it has sacrificed any chance of getting a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Meanwhile, the President of Pakistan, Rafiq Tarar, has said Islamabad is yet to make a decision on whether it will detonate a nuclear device in response to the Indian move.

His comment came as American officials were saying that Pakistan has completed preparations for its own nuclear test, which could only be hours away.

The BBC correspondent in Islamabad says that Pakistan is also unlikely to respond to India's offer to discuss a no first use agreement, as a foreign ministry spokesman recently said that existing UN agreements make such a step redundant.

Budget to beat sanctions

The new session of parliament will also see a new budget next Monday.

The need for tough measures to counter international sanctions and to curb unrelated economic slowdown might lead to higher taxes or less than expected social spending.

Although few real clues have emerged as to the government's intentions, reports say the finance minister may opt to speed up and deepen freemarket economic reform in part to compensate for sanctions.

Defence spending is also likely to increase for the first time in years.

Other bills expected to come up in this parliamentary session include the reservation of a third of all seats in parliament for women and the long-awaited appointment of an ombudsman to deal with complaints against the government.

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