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The Maldives has said India withdrew more than half of its troops deployed in its territory ahead of a Friday deadline, as the strategically located archipelago strengthens ties with China.

The Maldives, known as a luxury tourist destination with its white sand beaches, also straddles key east-west international shipping routes. Pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu’s election win last year hinged in large part on a pledge to reduce India’s political clout in the atoll nation.

After coming to office he vowed to disband a garrison of 89 Indian soldiers deployed to patrol the maritime boundary of the nation, made up of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.

A spokeswoman for Muizzu told reporters in the capital Male that 51 Indian military personnel had left by Monday.

“As of now, 51 soldiers stationed at two platforms have been repatriated,” Heena Waleed said on Monday night.

“All Indian military personnel in the country will be withdrawn from the Maldives by May 10.”

Muizzu’s first state visit as president was to China, breaking a tradition of India being the first overseas stop for new Maldivian leaders.

He has entered into a raft of agreements with Beijing to boost bilateral relations and economic ties, sidelining India, which considers the tiny nation to be within its sphere of influence.

In March, the Maldives signed a “military assistance” deal with China as the Indian garrison began leaving.

The Maldivian defence ministry said the deal was to foster “stronger bilateral ties” and that China would train its staff under the pact.

India is suspicious of China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in the Maldives as well as in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Relations between the Maldives and India have chilled since Muizzu took office.

The Maldives’ foreign minister Moosa Zameer is scheduled to visit New Delhi on Wednesday for official talks.