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India says it's firm on Canada reducing diplomatic staff in the country but sets no deadline

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NEW DELHI -

India said Thursday it has set no deadline so far but remains determined to reduce Canada's diplomatic presence in the South Asian country amid a confrontation over Canadian accusations that India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in suburban Vancouver.

New Delhi has dismissed the accusations as absurd.

India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters at a news conference on Thursday that the two countries are discussing "modalities on achieving" parity as to the levels of diplomatic representation.

"I wouldn't like to get into details of the conversation," he said.

Earlier this week, a Canadian official said India has told Canada to remove 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country.

Bagchi did not reply when asked whether Canada has provided credible evidence to back up its accusations but only reiterated New Delhi's stand that it is open to look into "anything relevant and specific" that Canada may put forward.

India has also cancelled visas for Canadians. Canada has not retaliated for that. India previously expelled a senior Canadian diplomat after Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appeared to try to calm the diplomatic clash, saying that Canada is "not looking to provoke or escalate."

For years, India has accused Canada of giving free rein to Sikh separatists who have been fighting for the creation of "Khalistan," a separate Sikh nation in India's northern Punjab state.

Bagchi on Thursday insisted that Canada improve the security situation for Indian diplomats there. New Delhi has argued that Indian diplomats in Canada are not safe going to and from their jobs at the diplomatic missions in the North American country because of an alleged climate of fear created by Sikh separatists.

Trudeau said last month that there were "credible allegations" of Indian involvement in the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh leader who was killed by masked gunmen in June in Surrey, outside Vancouver.

For years, India has said Nijjar, a Canadian citizen born in India, has links to terrorism, an allegation Nijjar had denied.

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