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Much importance attached to Lee's visit

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak
South Korea President Lee Myung-bak | License Photo

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's visit to New Delhi to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day event will be significant, the Indian ambassador said.

The invitation to Lee "shows respect and regard India has for South Korea," and "also reflects future-oriented relations with South Korea we are looking at," Ambassador Skand Tayal told the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

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Lee's four-day trip will begin Sunday during which he will be the chief guest at next Tuesday's Republic Day parade, a spectacular and mammoth event to mark the day India became a republic in 1950 after winning freedom from Britain.

Every year, India invites a foreign leader to be the chief guest at the event. Past invitees have included Russia's Vladimir Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Lee's aides said the choice of India as his first foreign destination shows Seoul's desire for closer relations with the Asian neighbor, especially since their free trade pact, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, came into force at the start of this year. The agreement is expected to boost bilateral trade which totaled $15.5 billion in 2008 by 15 percent annually.

"India offers profitable opportunities to dynamic Korean companies to make India a base for manufacturing," Tayal said. He said Lee and his Indian hosts are expected to sign agreements on space program, science and technology issues.

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