G20 leaders pay respects at Gandhi memorial as they wrap up Indian summit and hand over to Brazil

NEW DELHI (AP) — G20 leaders paid their respects to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi as their summit came to a close Sunday, a day after the group added a new member and reached agreement on a range of issues but softened language on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Group of 20 rich and developing nations welcomed the African Union as a member — part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to uplift the Global South. And host India was also able to get the disparate group to sign off on a final statement despite pointed disagreements among powerful members, mostly centered on the European conflict.

India also unveiled an ambitious plan with the United States, the European Union and others to build a rail and shipping corridor linking it with the Middle East and Europe in a bid to strengthen economic growth and political cooperation.

With those major agenda items taken care of, the leaders shook hands Sunday and posed for photos with Modi at the Rajghat memorial site in New Delhi. Each received a shawl made of khadi, a handspun fabric that was promoted by Gandhi during India’s independence movement against the British.

Some leaders — including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and last year’s G20 host President Joko Widodo of Indonesia — walked to the memorial barefoot in a customary show of respect. U.S. President Joe Biden and others wore slippers as they walked over wet ground spotted with puddles from heavy rain.

The leaders stood before wreaths placed around the memorial, which features an eternal flame and was draped with orange and yellow marigold garlands.

The one reserved for Modi identified him as prime minister of “Bharat” — an ancient Sanskrit name championed by his Hindu nationalist supporters that shot to prominence as the summit approached.

Earlier in the day, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy separately took time to visit and offer prayers at the Akshardham Temple, one of Delhi’s most prominent Hindu houses of worship.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took over the G20 rotating presidency at the summit’s end. He hopes to rebuild Brazil’s standing after a period of international isolation under far-right former leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, will likely use its presidency to advocate for increased funds for environmental preservation, said Laerte Apolinário Júnior, a professor of international relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

Lula has sought to move beyond the disputes over Ukraine, telling Indian news site Firstpost that the G20 wasn’t the appropriate forum to discuss the war.

Brazil has proposed mediating in the conflict, but those efforts have largely been rebuffed, and its refusal to arm Ukraine has sparked criticism from Western countries.

Latin America’s biggest democracy is also scheduled to assume the presidency of the BRICS group — composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and host the UN’s climate conference in 2025.

In the months leading up to the leaders’ summit in New Delhi, India had been unable to find agreement on the wording about Ukraine, with Russia and China objecting even to language that they had agreed to at the 2022 G20 summit in Bali.

This year’s final statement, released a day before the formal close of the summit, highlighted the “human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine,” but did not mention Russia’s invasion directly.

Western leaders — who have pushed for a stronger rebuke of Russia’s actions in past G20 meetings — still called the consensus a success, and praised India’s nimble balancing act.

Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said his government was grateful to the countries that tried to include strong wording, but that the “G20 has nothing to be proud of,” suggesting among other things that the war “in Ukraine,” should have been referred to as the war “against Ukraine.”

Though the Ukraine wording was not as strong as many Western leaders wanted, it could help bolster the West’s position in the long run, said a senior EU official who only spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the discussions.

That’s because Russia, China and all the developing countries in the group — including some that have been less critical of Russia — had signed off on every line, making it clear that “Russia is the cause of this war and Russia is the one that is prolonging it,” the official said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters it was significant that Russia had signed on to the agreement that mentioned the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference that thanks to the Global South “defending its legitimate interests, it was possible to prevent the success of the West’s attempt to again ‘Ukrainize’ the entire agenda to the detriment of discussing the urgent problems of developing countries.”

Lavrov added that “the Ukrainian crisis is mentioned (in the final G20 declaration), but exclusively in the context of the need to resolve all conflicts that exist in the world”.

India had made directing more attention to addressing the needs of the developing world a focus of the summit, and organizers worked hard to keep it from being dominated by the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed last year’s G20 summit in Bali by video and stole the show with an in-person appearance at the gathering of leaders of the G7 rich democracies — all of whom are members of the G20 — in Hiroshima earlier this year. Modi made a point of not inviting Zelenskyy to participate in this year’s event.

Also at the summit, India launched a global biofuel alliance with 19 countries including the U.S. and Brazil. The fuels, made from agricultural produce or organic waste, have gained popularity in recent decades as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

The G20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.S and the EU. Spain holds a permanent guest seat.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping opted not to come this year, ensuring no tough face-to-face conversations with their American and European counterparts.

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Associated Press writers David Rising and Sibi Arasu in New Delhi and Eleonore Hughes in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

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