Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 21:11
Diplomat row: India removes US embassy security barriers
By Reuters

Diplomat row: India removes US embassy security barriers 
US embassy security personnel watch after barricades were removed in front of the US Embassy in New Delhi on December 17, 2013. (Photo / AFP) 



NEW DELHI - Indian authorities removed security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday apparently in retaliation for the arrest and alleged heavy-handed treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York.

New Delhi police used tow trucks and bulldozers to remove the concrete barricades, which are used to restrict traffic on the road outside the embassy.

As the dispute over the diplomat's treatment grew, several top politicians, including the leaders of the two main political parties and the national security adviser, refused to meet a delegation of US lawmakers visiting India this week.

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said the treatment of the diplomat was "barbaric" and in protest refused to meet a delegation of US lawmakers on a visit to India. The delegation has also been snubbed by the leaders of the two main political parties, a cabinet minister and the speaker of parliament.

In a sign the row might deepen, Indian TV networks reported that the foreign ministry was considering retaliatory demands, including withdrawing consular identification cards and certain privileges for some US diplomats and their families.

India's foreign ministry and the US embassy Delhi said they were unable to comment on the reports.

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last week for allegedly underpaying her nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the United States. Khobragade was handcuffed upon arrest and strip-searched before being released on bail, Indian media said.

Khobragade, who was released on US$250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport, faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on Monday said diplomatic security staff followed standard procedures during the arrest and then handed her over to the US Marshals.

The arrest triggered fierce debate in India, with opinion divided over whether Khobragade was unfairly treated or whether she should be condemned for mistreating her domestic helper.

Khobragade falsely stated in her nanny's visa application that she would be paid $9.75 an hour, a figure that would have been in line with the minimum rates required by US law, according to a statement issued last week by the public attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But the diplomat had privately agreed with the domestic worker that she would receive just over a third of that rate, the public attorney said.

US ambassador to India Nancy Powell was summoned on Friday to meet Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who conveyed "shock" over the "absolutely unacceptable" treatment of the diplomat.

The case is the latest concerning alleged ill-treatment of domestic workers by India's elite, both at home and abroad.