South Africa says India angry at BRICS story an April Fool's joke

NEW DELHI (AFP) - South Africa has laughed off a story in an Indian newspaper which said the Indian government is angry at the South African president's failure to hold bilateral talks with its prime minister during last week's BRICS summit.

The Indian delegation headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to have a meeting with President Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of the summit in Durban from March 26-27. But according to the Sunday Express, the entire schedule drawn up by the host country was in disarray and the two leaders were unable to hold talks.

Meanwhile, Mr Zuma did manage bilateral meetings with his Chinese and Russian counterparts. Dr Singh was scheduled to meet Mr Zuma on March 26 but the plan had to be abandoned because the bilateral meeting between South Africa and Russia overshot by an hour, the paper said.

It also said on March 27, South Africa's foreign minister wanted Dr Singh to meet Mr Zuma quickly for 15-20 minutes. But by then, according to the Express, the Indians were livid at the lack of respect for protocol and refused to comply at such short notice.

But South Africa's foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela laughed off the allegations as ridiculous and the story as an April Fool's joke.

The two leaders "met not once, not twice, they met numerous times during the summit," he told AFP. "All the issues they are raising in that story are ridiculous, it's an April Fool's story, as far as I am concerned."

The paper said the Indians were also upset by the accommodation arrangements.

Dr Singh and Indian diplomats were allotted a resort at Zimbali, 40 kilometres from Durban, while the Brazilian, Russian and Chinese leaders were lodged in hotels within the city. Dr Singh had to travel into the city on both days of the summit and also suffer long delays in the programme, the Express said.

The hotel was picked by the Indian delegation's advance team a few months ago, said South Africa's Mr Monyela.

"They toured that hotel. They were happy with the arrangements. They chose it, they had been to that hotel many times," said Mr Monyela.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the newspaper report.