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18.12.2013 in Politics by admin 0

India Removes Security Barriers Around U.S. Embassy

NEW DELHI—India retaliated for the arrest of one of its diplomats in New York by dismantling security barriers on streets around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and revoking some privileges given to American consular officials.

U.S. prosecutors last week charged Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, with committing visa fraud and making false claims about the amount of money she paid an Indian national who worked for her as a domestic helper.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said Ms. Khobragade had been paying the domestic worker wages of $3.31 an hour, far less than the $9.75 an hour that she had said she would pay when she sought a visa for the woman. The diplomat denies the charges, according to her lawyer.

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A security guard removes road barriers in front of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Indians expressed outrage over the treatment of Ms. Khobragade, who Indian officials and her lawyer said was handcuffed as she dropped off her daughter at school, and kept in a cell before posting bail. The 39-year-old diplomat is the deputy consul-general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the Indian Consulate in New York.

The State Department said Tuesday it is looking into how Ms. Khobragad was treated, but so far there were “no indications” of any problems with the arrest, spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Ms. Harf sought to play down the impact of the incident on diplomatic relations, characterizing the arrest as an “isolated episode.”

“We don’t want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship,” she said, adding that India’s removal of the security barriers won’t have a serious security impact on U.S. officials in the country, though she urged India to meet its obligations to American diplomats working there.

On Tuesday, officials in New Delhi asked U.S. diplomats across India to turn in their government-issued identity cards and airport passes that allow them special treatment.

“The United States needs to come out of the mind-set that there are still banana republics in the world.…India cannot be treated in this manner,” India’s parliamentary affairs minister, Kamal Nath, said Tuesday. “We look forward to the United States for an unconditional apology.”

Ms. Khobragade isn’t entitled to broad diplomatic immunity that would have protected her from arrest over the fraud allegations. Her status would have protected her only from arrest for actions conducted in her role as a consular official, the State Department spokeswoman said.

According to a law-enforcement official, the Diplomatic Security Service last week waited for the diplomat’s daughter to get into the school before arresting Ms. Khobragade, and allowed her to make arrangements to have her child picked up from school.

Daniel N. Arshack, Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer said, “There was simply no reason to have arrested her on the street in front of her daughter’s school.…This entire prosecution represents a significant error in judgment and an embarrassing failure of U.S. international protocol.”

The diplomat’s arrest sparked a frenzy in Indian media, which reported that she was strip-searched and had to spend time in a jail cell with drug addicts. Her lawyer couldn’t confirm those reports, and the State Department said it was investigating reports Ms. Khobragade was strip-searched.

Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon called the arrest “despicable” and “barbaric.” Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and other politicians Tuesday canceled meetings with a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

Yashwant Sinha, a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the India government should fight back by arresting “same-sex companions of American diplomats,” following a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last week that made gay sex illegal.

Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to the U.S., said India was sending a message that it expects better treatment for its diplomats.

“The incident should be taken as an opportunity to establish a code of conduct between the two countries so that such ugly incidents are not repeated,” he said.

—Dion Nissenbaum in Washington and Sean Gardiner in New York contributed to this article.

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