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LONDON (Reuters) - A statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled on Saturday in London's prestigious Parliament Square, a space packed mostly with monuments to men who served the British Empire that Gandhi helped destroy.
In an ironic twist noted by the Indian government, Gandhi's likeness now shares the same space as a statue of Britain's former leader Winston Churchill, who tried to thwart Indian independence and who despised Gandhi and his aims.
Churchill famously called Gandhi "a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace."
But almost seven decades after India won independence from Britain in 1947, thanks in large part to Gandhi's peaceful civil disobedience campaign, relations between the two countries are strong with both keen to boost economic ties.
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled the 9-foot-tall statue opposite the British parliament, marking the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to start the struggle for self rule.
"It ... marks an important, historic moment celebrating the strong bond between our two nations," Jaitley said.
"India and the UK share the same values and we are a partnership of equals. This lasting friendship is just one of many legacies left by Gandhi."
Prime Minister David Cameron, who looked on as Jaitley removed an orange drape from the statue, said the monument celebrated the special friendship between the world's oldest democracy and its largest.
"This statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the most towering figures in the history of world politics," said Cameron. "Many of his teachings remain as potent today as when he first made them."
Indian film star Amitabh Bachchan spoke, as did Gandhi’s grandson Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
The bronze statue of Gandhi, which shows him standing up wearing a dhoti, was crafted by British sculptor Philip Jackson> It is based on a photograph of Gandhi standing outside the offices of the British prime minister in 1931.
The statue is lower than others on the square, a deliberate decision made by the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, which raised money for the monument, to reflect the fact that Gandhi considered himself a man of the people.
Although the square is mostly filled with statues of former British prime ministers, Gandhi has been placed close to monuments of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and South African President Nelson Mandela.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Larry King