ABU DHABI: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United Arab Emirates yesterday for a two-day visit during which he will deliver a speech to thousands of Indian expatriates, tour a mosque in a symbolic gesture of outreach to Muslims and discuss with rulers how to improve already strong trade links.

Modi is the first Indian premier to visit the country in 34 years. He will meet today with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Indian prime minister, who has come under fire for his party’s affiliation to hard-line Hindu groups, will kick off his two-day visit with a tour of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. He will speak today at the Dubai Cricket Stadium, where more than 52,000 people have registered to attend, according to the local daily Gulf News.

In an interview published in Gulf News yesterday, Modi acknowledged that “there is a mini-India in the UAE.” The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, is home to about 2.6 million Indian expatriates who comprise a third of the total population and outnumber the local Emirati population. Annual Indian remittances from the UAE are estimated at $14 billion.

Modi said India is the UAE’s second-largest trading partner and the UAE is India’s third largest trading partner behind the US and China. Trade between the two reached $60 billion last year. Wealthy Indians living in the UAE took advantage of the country’s rapid development over the past three decades, settling here just as Abu Dhabi and Dubai were transforming from fishing ports into bustling investment hubs buoyed by the discovery of oil.

There are also thousands of poor Indian migrant workers building the country’s dazzling skyscrapers and shopping centers. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the UAE for its treatment of migrant workers, saying that despite government efforts, some employers continue to withhold wages, confiscate passports and provide substandard housing. Modi will be visiting one of the UAE’s largest labor camps in Abu Dhabi to meet Indian workers. – AP