Male: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday had the unique distinction of being the first foreign head of government or state to address the 'People's Majlis', Maldives' Parliament, in its history of 78 years.

After his speech that lasted about 20 minutes, Singh was given a standing ovation by members of the 75-strong House.

Majlis Speaker Abdullah Shahid welcomed the Prime Minister with generous words, saying he was a leader and statesman from a great parliamentary democracy. He also said India had come to Maldives' help whenever it was in difficulties.

Men MPs were generally wearing lounge suit while a sprinkling of women MPs were in their traditional full-length gown with a scarf tied to their plait. Each MP had a computer in front of his seat.

On his first visit to Maldives as the Prime Minister, Singh said it was an "unforgettable journey" to the country for him which he will cherish.

"I am overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty and serenity" of this country, he said.

The Majlis Speaker said that his country has lot to learn from India, a leading economic giant and the largest democracy in the world.

Singh acknowledged that it was a unique honour for him to address the Majlis. "I am truly honoured by this gesture accorded to me and my country," he said.

The Prime Minister also conveyed belated greetings to the people of Maldives on their Republic Day, which was celebrated on Friday.

Singh's wife Gursharan Kaur and Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed's wife Laila Ali Abdullah were present at the Majlis during the address.

Meira Kumar to visit Maldives

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is scheduled to visit Maldives at the invitation of her Maldivian counterpart in the "People's Majlis". Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced this during his address to the Majlis, Maldives' Parliament.

He said the formation of India-Maldives Parliamentary Friendship Groups in the People's Majlis and Indian Parliament augur well for the development of relations between the two Parliaments.

In his address to the Majlis, the first by a visiting head of the government or state in its history of 78 years, the Prime Minister said the 'People's Majlis' is a testimony to the strong faith the people of Maldives have shown in democracy.

"As a fellow democracy we take delight in your achievements," he said.

(Agencies)