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India's Modi arrives in the UAE on his seventh trip to a nation that is home to millions of Indians

Flower petals are thrown to welcome the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wearing a waistcoat, as he arrives with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Bishwa Sarma, to his right, to address a public rally in Guwahati, India, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates on his seventh trip to the nation, feted by tens of thousands of his countrymen ahead of elections back home in the coming months.

Modi was met on landing in Abu Dhabi by Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a man he repeatedly has called his brother while working to bolster ties between the Arabian Peninsula nation that is home to millions of Indians. The two leaders walked past an honor guard before sitting down for their meeting, which saw bilateral agreements signed between the nations.

Modi lauded “our closeness and how we have moved forward in every field.”

He added: “Brother, it is also a matter of happiness that we are going to do (a) bilateral investment treaty. This is also going to have a long lasting impact.”

The two sides also discussed energy issues. India remains a key buyer of Emirati oil and now is looking at the possibility of long-term contracts for liquefied natural gas as well, a statement from the Indian delegation said.

“The UAE and India are united by our shared keenness to develop the bilateral strategic partnership to achieve further progress and build a better future for our peoples,” Sheikh Mohammed said on X, formerly Twitter.

Tuesday night, tens of thousands of Indians crowded into Zayed Sports City Stadium to see Modi. Only Indian nationals were being permitted to attend the event in Abu Dhabi, organizers said.

“You have created a new history in Abu Dhabi," Modi said. “You have come from all corners of UAE, and different states of India, but the hearts of everyone are connected.”

Modi's arrival came as Indian police on Tuesday used tear gas and detained some farmers who clashed with them and tried to break barricades, blocking their way to New Delhi to demand guaranteed crop prices. In 2021, farmers camped for months in the Indian capital after Modi withdrew controversial agriculture laws that had triggered the earlier protests.

The protests could pose a significant challenge for Modi and his governing Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the coming elections in India, the world's largest democracy. However, Modi is widely expected to win a third term.

Of the over 9 million people living in the UAE, India estimates more than 3.5 million are Indian expatriates, making them the largest national group of people in the country, outnumbering even Emirati citizens. While many are low-paid laborers, there are a growing number of white-collar professionals and multiple generations of Indian families.

Modi’s visit highlights the nations’ long-standing economic and historic ties, from spice selling and gold smuggling in the UAE’s formative years to tens of billions of dollars' worth of annual bilateral trade today.

The countries signed a free trade deal in 2022 aimed at doubling their bilateral trade to $100 billion. The countries have agreed to allow India to settle some payments in rupees as opposed to dollars, lowering transaction costs.

The relationship also underscores the Emirates’ realpolitik foreign policy. The UAE has embraced Modi as Muslims in India increasingly come under attack by Hindu nationalist groups. Modi received the Emirates’ top civilian honor in 2019 even as he stripped statehood from the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

Modi’s original visit to the Emirates in 2015 was the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years.

Modi also will address the World Governments Summit in Dubai and inaugurate a new stone-carved Hindu temple near Abu Dhabi on Wednesday while in the UAE. He'll then travel on to Qatar.