* Media says India diplomat strip-searched in New York
* India will remove privileges for U.S. consular staff -
* Senior opposition politician suggests arrest partners of
(Adds quotes on same-sex partners, foreign minister, pay
By Shyamantha Asokan and Frank Jack Daniel
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 Indian authorities removed
concrete security barriers in front of the U.S. embassy in New
Delhi on Tuesday in apparent retaliation for the arrest and
allegedly heavy-handed treatment of an Indian diplomat in New
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 barriers had prevented vehicles approaching at
Police and government officials refused to respond to
repeated requests for comment on why the embassy barricades were
taken away. But Indian television networks, citing unnamed
sources, reported that the removal was one of several
retaliatory measures that India planned to take.
A senior government 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. Check posts are provided. This is only an issue
related to traffic flows," the official said.
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 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.
Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New
York, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly underpaying her
nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the United
Khobragade, who was released on $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.
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 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 television 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 their 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.
Government minister Shashi Tharoor, a former U.N. diplomat,
said many envoys from developing countries in New York were
themselves paid less than the U.S. minimum wage and that 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, India's
political parties are determined not to be labelled soft or
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 favourite 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.
The case is the latest concerning alleged ill-treatment of
domestic workers by India's elite, both at home and abroad.
In June 2011, an Indian maid working for the country's
consul general in New York filed a lawsuit alleging that he was
using her as forced labour.
A member of parliament's wife was arrested last month for
allegedly beating her maid to death at her home in Delhi.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular
officials enjoy immunity from arrest only for crimes committed
in connection with their work.
U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on
Monday that diplomatic security staff had followed standard
procedures during Khobragade's arrest and then handed her over
to U.S. Marshals.
(Additional reporting by Adnan Abidi in NEW DELHI; Editing by