India removes U.S. Embassy security barriers in spat

NEW DELHI/NEW YORK Wed Dec 18, 2013 4:35am IST

1 of 4. Policemen stand next to a bulldozer removing the security barriers in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi December 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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NEW DELHI/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indian police removed concrete security barriers outside the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday in apparent retaliation for the treatment of an Indian diplomat who was strip-searched after her arrest in New York last week.

The diplomatic spat was triggered by the December 12 arrest of Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York, on charges of visa fraud and making false statements.

On Tuesday, New Delhi police used tow trucks and a backhoe loader to drag away long concrete blocks from roads running past the embassy and leading up to gates of the compound, a Reuters witness said.

The low barriers had prevented vehicles from approaching the compound at high speeds and were presumably designed to help protect the embassy against attack from suicide bombers.

The embassy has multiple layers of security and is also protected by a high wall.

Indian police and government officials declined repeated requests for comment on why the barricades were taken away, but Indian television networks, citing unnamed sources, said their removal was one of several retaliatory measures India planned.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it had told the Indian government at a "high" level that Washington expects New Delhi to protect its embassy and stressed it did not want the incident with the Indian diplomat to hurt bilateral ties.

"We understand there are sensitive issues involved here," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. "We don't want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship."

A senior Indian official, who asked not to be named, said police posted in the area would ensure continued security.

"We take the security of all diplomatic missions in India very seriously. Checkposts are provided. This is only an issue related to traffic flows," the official said.

STRIP SEARCH

The U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Justice Department, for the first time confirmed on Tuesday that Khobragade had been strip-searched. Indian media had previously reported this.

In a statement, the Marshals Service said it took custody of Khobragade after her arrest by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. It confirmed she was strip-searched, saying it followed "standard arrestee intake procedures."

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

India's National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon branded as "barbaric" the treatment of the diplomat, who according to Indian media was handcuffed upon arrest last week and strip-searched before being released on bail.

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

India has become a close trade and security partner of the United States over the past decade, but the two countries have not totally overcome a history of ties marked by distrust.

"Everything that can be done will be done, I assure you. We take this thing very seriously," India's Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told TV news network CNN-IBN.

"We have put in motion what we believe will be an effective way of addressing this issue, but also put in motion such steps that we believe need to be taken to protect her dignity."

Indian TV networks said the other steps included checking the salaries paid by U.S. Embassy staff to domestic helpers and withdrawing consular identification cards and privileges such as access to airport lounges for some U.S. diplomats and families.

India's Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy said they were unable to comment on the media reports.

Khobragade's arrest triggered a fierce debate in India over how to respond to the alleged mistreatment of the helper.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian government minister and former U.N. diplomat, said many envoys in New York from developing nations were themselves paid less than U.S. minimum wage, adding it was unrealistic to expect them to pay domestic staff more.

EYES ON ELECTION

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 U.S. law, according to a statement issued last week by the public attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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

With general elections due in less than six months, Indian politicians are determined not to be called soft or unpatriotic.

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that leads India's ruling Congress party, both declined to meet the U.S. delegation.

"Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted (out) to our lady diplomat in USA," Modi said in a tweet.

A senior member of Modi's socially conservative party, currently the favorite to form the next government, said India should retaliate by putting partners of gay U.S. diplomats in the country behind bars.

India's Supreme Court last week effectively ruled homosexuality to be illegal.

"The reason why they have arrested this Indian diplomat in New York is violation of the law of the land in the United States. Now the same violation is taking place wherever U.S. Embassy official have obtained visas for their partners of the same sex," former finance minister Yashwant Sinha told Reuters.

"If American law can apply to Indian diplomats in New York, the India law can apply here," he said.

According to Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, there are different types of diplomatic immunity. Khobragade had what is know as "consular immunity," which applies only to acts committed in connection with official duties, she said. (Additional reporting by Adnan Abidi in New Delhi, writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Diane Craft)

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Comments (10)
smacc wrote:
It seems,by way of India’s history of mistreatment and abuse of it’s Women,that this indignation over this women’s arrest is hypocritical to the extreme.This is a first for Indian men,standing up for a lowly women?

Dec 17, 2013 8:00pm IST  --  Report as abuse
amma wrote:
If the Vienna conventions are followed and a crime is committed there should not be any special treatments for anyone.
Everyone is equal before law.
It is quite common in India to treat the domestic helps with no respect or with very less salary but in other countries the dignity of labor is there and also the minimum wages rules are strictly enforced which everyone should respect.
Media has the responsibility to report the facts not just unnecessary hypes to create sensational news.

Dec 17, 2013 8:04pm IST  --  Report as abuse
DeepakNanda wrote:
As an Indian-American (who happens to work at another consular mission in the U.S.) I am extremely upset at what Ms. Devyani has done. This level of hypocrisy is unbelievable for an ‘ambassador’ who supposedly supports women rights.

It is well know in the Indian community that we hire ‘servants’ and pay them next to nothing wages while forcing them to endure hard working conditions. This exploitation of household-workers is a pandemic problem in the Indian community. Rich and entitled land-owners and business owners may treat their servants like slaves in India, but in this country, America, things are a little different. Here we work for ourselves and honor our obligations

The fact that she refused to honor the original contract made with the nanny, shows her true character.

And yes, in America, everyone who goes to jail gets “strip-searched” to check for weapons and other contraband, it’s part of the criminal procedure. Nobody gets special treatment. Even if they arrested the mayor, or governor, or any other important government official they would still go through the same procedure. While she may be innocent until proven guilty, by putting herself in this situation, she has shown a severe lack of judgement.

Also, I would not be be surprised if her “bureaucrat” father in India is involved in some shady stuff as well.

Tell me, are these the kinds of people you want representing our nation? As an Indian-American I am ashamed of the negative publicity she has brought on our nation. By violating the law, Ms. Devyani has brought unwarranted attention upon her self, her family, and by extension the Indian-community. We should hold our ambassadors to higher standards, not support a woman who has no respect for her workers. What an embarrassment…Shame on you Ms. Devyani!

The truth will come out, and all of the people defending Ms. Devyani are inadvertently supporting a perverse form of slavery. Shame on you for not standing up for worker’s rights!

twitter: @deeunlimited

Dec 17, 2013 9:54pm IST  --  Report as abuse
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