UK's Johnson to leave home woes behind in visit to India

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LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek to put his domestic problems behind him when he visits India this week on a trip to strengthen links between the two countries which have not seen eye to eye over the response to the Ukraine crisis.

Johnson will head to India on Thursday with calls for his resignation ringing in his ears after he was fined for breaking his own COVID-19 lockdown rules by attending a birthday party for him in Downing Street in June 2020.

Parliament returns from its Easter vacation on Tuesday and Johnson has said he would "set the record straight" about gatherings in his office. He had previously told lawmakers there were no parties and guidance was always followed.

In details released late on Saturday, Johnson's office said the British leader would use his trip to India to deepen relations, including in-depth talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the two nations' "strategic defence, diplomatic and economic partnership".

He will also push for progress in talks on a free trade deal, which Britain is hoping to strike as part of its post-Brexit strategy. His office said such a trade deal was predicted to boost Britain's total trade by up to 28 billion pounds ($36.5 billion) annually by 2035.

But the visit will be overshadowed in part by disagreement over the Ukraine conflict.

Western allies have called for India, which imports arms from Russia, to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin in stronger terms, and U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this week told Modi that buying more oil from Russia was not in India's interest.

British trade minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan also said last month Britain was very disappointed with India's stance. However, Johnson's office made no direct reference to the conflict, although a source said it was expected Ukraine would be discussed "among other geopolitical issues".

Johnson said India, as a major economic power, was a highly valued strategic partner.

"As we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together," he said in a statement. Last year, he was forced to cancel a planned trip to India because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last May, the two countries announced a partnership involving more than 530 million pounds of Indian investment into Britain, and Downing Street said Johnson was expected to announce further major investment and new collaboration on cutting-edge science, health and technology.

($1 = 0.7658 pounds)

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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