India red-faced over speech mix-up

By Andrew Buncombe

With India seeking to extend its global influence and secure a permanent place at the United Nations Security Council, it was perhaps only natural that the country's Foreign Minister would try to ensure his address to international delegates was as memorable as possible.

But when S M Krishna announced, "on a personal note", his satisfaction at seeing representatives from two Portuguese-speaking nations in his audience, an Indian official next to him realised something was wrong.

Quickly, he stopped the minister and told him he should start again, this time reading from his own speech and not that of his Portuguese counterpart.

Quite how a red-faced Krishna ended up reading from the speech of the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Luis Amado, rather than his own remains unclear. Officials have dismissed the embarrassment and said copies of Amado's speech had been handed out to delegates.

As it was, when Amado spoke, directly before the Indian minister, he did not stick to his prepared speech and extemporised. They said that the introduction of Amado's speech was very general and could have been delivered by any delegate.

But reports suggest that when Krishna began speaking, many became immediately aware something was wrong as several lines appeared out of place. As it was, he spoke for a full three minutes - even talking about the actions of the European Union - before he was stopped by the Indian official who pointed out his mistake.

The 78-year-old minister has sought to brush off the faux pas.

"Unfortunately, it happened," he said. "There was nothing wrong in it. There were so many papers spread in front of me so by mistake the wrong speech was taken out."

Opponents have seized on the affair and demanded that Krishna be sacked for what they describe as bringing shame to the nation.

"Was it negligence or a mistake? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should explain to the nation why and how it happened at a world forum and he should also explain what are the steps being taken in this regard," said Venkaiah Naidu, a senior member of the main Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. He claimed Krishna had lost his "moral right" to represent the country.

Reports suggest this is not the first time Krishna had made a mess of diplomatic addresses. Last year in Islamabad, during a meeting with his Pakistan counterpart, he read out material from background notes and at a meeting with EU delegates in Delhi, he read from instructions not intended to be shared publicly.

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