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Tensions between Canada and India escalated Tuesday, a day after the Canadian prime minister accused the Indian government of involvement in the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil, leading both countries to expel each other’s senior diplomats, NBC News reported.
On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that authorities were looking into “credible allegations” that Indian government agents were behind the shooting in June of Sikh activist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar in the province of British Columbia.
Nijjar had been an outspoken supporter of an independent Sikh state known as Khalistan in the northern Indian state of Punjab – where most of India’s Sikhs live. The Indian government had branded him a “terrorist.”
Trudeau urged the Indian government to cooperate in the probe, noting that the “killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Following the announcement, Ottawa ordered the expulsion of a top Indian diplomat from the country.
On Tuesday, Indian officials rejected the allegations as “absurd,” saying Canada’s expulsion furnished the government’s “growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”
In a tit-for-tat move, New Delhi asked a senior Canadian envoy to leave India within five days.
India has long accused Canada – where about two percent of the population is Sikh – of supporting the separatist movement. While the Khalistan movement is banned in India, it has numerous supporters among the Sikh diaspora in other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Observers noted that Nijjar’s killing and ongoing disputes over the Khalistan movement have affected diplomatic relations between both countries.
The two countries have paused negotiations on an initial trade agreement that they hoped to finalize by the end of this year. Canada has also postponed a trade delegation to India scheduled for later this fall.