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Panel urges US to refuse Gujarat leader

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech in New Delhi on April 8, 2013
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech in New Delhi on April 8, 2013. A panel on Tuesday urged the United States to maintain a ban on a visa to Modi over anti-Muslim riots, even though he is a favorite to run for prime minister.

A panel on Tuesday urged the United States to maintain a ban on a visa to the leader of the Indian state of Gujarat over anti-Muslim riots, even though he is a favorite to run for prime minister.

In a wide-ranging annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said that Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi should be "inadmissible to the United States" due to "severe violations of religious freedom."

"There is significant evidence linking him to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate," Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the Commission, told reporters on a conference call.

Modi led the western state in 2002 when religious riots broke out that left 2,000 dead, most of them Muslims. One of his former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killings but several investigations cleared Modi of personal responsibility.

With Gujarat's economy booming, Modi has tried to rebrand himself as a pro-business reformist and is considered a frontrunner to lead the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in next year's national elections.

The US State Department has refused to let Modi visit. But it has faced growing calls to change its position, with three junior Republican members of Congress visiting Gujarat in March and urging a visa for Modi.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose board is appointed by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders of both parties, advises the government on policy but does not have power over visa decisions.

In its report, the commission called for a database of foreigners who would be denied admission to the United States over religious freedom violations.

The annual report strongly criticized several countries over their records on religious freedom including China, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

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