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Row deepens over Indian diplomat's arrest in US

New Delhi, December 17, 2013

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.

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 then strip-searched before being released on bail.

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested for allegedly underpaying her nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the United States.

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.

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

New Delhi police were not available to comment on the removal of the barriers outside the U.S. mission but Indian television networks had earlier reported that their removal was one of several retaliatory measures India could take.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission was also not available.

In a sign the row was deepening, Indian television networks reported that the foreign ministry was also considering checking the salaries paid by U.S. embassy staff to domestic helpers and the withdrawal of consular identification cards and certain privileges 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 fierce debate in India, with opinion divided over whether she had been unfairly treated or whether she should be condemned for allegedly mistreating her domestic helper.

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 US delegation.

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

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials enjoy immunity from arrest only for crimes committed in connection with their work.-Reuters




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