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India sees UK as its gateway to Europe - PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron meet inside 10 Downing Street, in London, November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Andy Rain/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) - India considers Britain to be its gateway to Europe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, the latest global leader to talk up the merits of Britain’s membership of the European Union before a referendum.

Speaking at a news conference in London alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, Modi said he would not risk telling Britons how to vote but instead extolled the benefits to India of Britain’s presence within the 28-member bloc.

“As far as India is concerned, if there is an entry point for us to the European Union that is the UK, that is Great Britain,” Modi said on the first day of a three-day visit aimed at building closer ties between the two countries.

Cameron plans to hold an in-out vote on Britain’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017 and has said he will campaign to keep Britain in the bloc if he can secure a raft of changes to the country’s membership terms, meaning Modi’s comments are likely to be well received.

On a state visit last month Chinese President Xi Jinping told Britain he wanted to see a united European Union in his most direct comments on the issue, while U.S. President Barack Obama has also called on Britain to vote to stay in.

Modi’s comments, delivered via a translater, were seized on by campaigners wanting Britain to stay in the EU.

“India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is the latest in a string of world leaders to say that Britain is stronger, safer, and better off in Europe,” said Will Straw of pro-Europe group Britain Stronger in Europe.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Kate Holton; editing by Elizabeth Piper