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Labour's Ealing Southall candidate responds to criticism over Pakistan comments

Virendra Sharma, who has served as MP for Ealing Southall since 2007, has written to community leaders upset with his comments about Pakistan

Virendra Sharma said he never intended to upset the community with comments over Pakistan

The Labour candidate for the Ealing Southall seat has responded to criticism of comments he made about Pakistan.

Virendra Sharma, who has served as MP for the constituency since 2007, has come under fire for remarks made in the House of Commons.

He is up against Lib Dem candidate Nigel Bakhai and UKIP's John Poynton at next month's general election , while the Tory and Green Party candidates are yet to be announced.

In a debate held in January, Mr Sharma said: "The National Human Rights Commission of India has freely criticised and called for punishments when the rule of law has not been upheld to a rigorous standard.

"That is not a level of freedom allowed to those residents in Pakistan, which is recognised as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.​"

Communities in Southall said they were upset with the comments, accusing them of being divisive.

A protest was planned for Wednesday afternoon (May 3) at the Sikh Missionary Society over the remarks, which sparked criticism on social media.

It follows a letter written to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn expressing a lack of confidence in Mr Sharma.

The letter, which called for Mr Sharma not to run in next month's election, was signed by groups in the area including Southall Community Action Group and St Anselm's Church.

Dalawar Chaudhry, a restaurant owner in Southall, said: "This is reflective of how out of touch he is with his constituents, (of) whom, a great proportion he has offended and has gone on to hurt the sentiments of this community."

Another person on Twitter, @azad0703, said on the social media site: "Indo-Pak caustic comments have no place in UK Parliament."

In a letter to community leaders, in response to the criticism, Mr Sharma said: "As a longstanding member of the community and a friend of many of you for many years I want to clarify my position.

"I wish to from the outset assure you that my intentions were never to offend you, as I have stated from the beginning, but I see that there is still a campaign against me on social media and that some people are still making misleading comments about what I have said.

"In 45 years of politics I never sought to divide communities, I have aimed to bring them together.

"I have never tried to play one group against another for my own benefit, or to raise my profile.

"I think it is irresponsible when politicians and community leaders divide a community, sow discord and create distrust to secure their own position.

"I am closer to the end of my political career than the beginning, and do not need to break down good relations in this way for my own advancement.

"I assure each and every one of you that I have never wanted to create tension in our community.

"I responded, in a debate that was put forward by other members of parliament, by trying to ensure that a balanced appraisal of the situation was put forward for the conflict.

"I wish to restate that I am happy to meet any community leaders to put their minds at rest, I had no intention to upset the community or to hurt the feelings of the hundreds of you who have kindly offered me so much support over the years."

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