India gags the Queen

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The Queen yesterday cancelled a planned speech in Madras, southern Indian, after the hosts refused to let her speak at a state governor's banquet.

The speech scheduled for today had not been included in the initial programmes discussed by British officials with Indian diplomats. It was raised in a meeting on 7 October, five days before the Queen's arrival, when it was firmly turned down by Indian protocol officials.

"Only one banquet speech is scheduled for a visiting head of state, which is normally given at the banquet hosted by our president," the Indian Foreign Ministry said.

A ministry spokesman, Talmiz Ahmed, said it was not a last-minute cancellation, as was being portrayed by British diplomats.

While the Indians used unusually direct language, the British tried to play down the latest in a series of controversies, calling it a slight misunderstanding. "We are taking no offence," Judith Slater, a government spokeswoman, said.

"If the Indian preference is no exchange of toast in Madras, there is absolutely no problem," Ms Slater said, adding that Buckingham Palace had known of the opposition to the speech, but the Foreign Office had not.