India to U.S.: Shut down 'commercial activities' at embassy bowling alley, gym

Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 12:33pm

In the latest squabble over its diplomat's arrest, India ordered the United States to shut down "commercial activities" at a recreational facility at the American Embassy in New Delhi.

The U.S. Embassy should halt the activities at the property by January 16, an Indian external affairs official said Thursday. The property houses a bowling alley, swimming pool and gym.

The multipurpose club in the embassy compound was used by nondiplomats, Indian officials said, accusing the U.S. of contravening an article of the Vienna Convention.

Tensions have escalated between New Delhi and Washington over the treatment of an Indian diplomat arrested in New York last month.

U.S. law enforcement officials strip-searched Devyani Khobragade, the country's deputy consul general in New York, after her arrest. She faces charges of fraud and making false statements on a visa application for her former housekeeper.

India has expressed outrage about the arrest. It demanded that the United States apologize and drop the charges against Khobragade, whose lawyer says she is not guilty and is entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Khobragade's father defended her.

"The charges against her are atrocious and the treatment meted out to her inhuman," Uttam Khobragade said Thursday.

He also supported India's order to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to shut down what it said were commercial activities on the mission's premises.

"I fully support whatever the Indian government is doing," he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "regret" about the situation last month but stopped short of saying the United States had done anything wrong.

Amid the uproar, Indian authorities removed concrete barriers from outside the U.S. Embassy and took away American diplomats' identification cards.

U.S. officials say there are no plans to drop the case. Khobragade is accused of paying her former housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, a fraction of the amount promised in the visa application and telling her to keep quiet about the situation.

Khobragade is entitled to consular immunity, U.S. officials have said, which is less broad than diplomatic immunity and covers only actions carried out under official duties.

As the diplomatic fallout deepens, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz delayed a trip to India that had been planned for next week.

"We have been in conversation with Indian counterparts about the dates, and we have agreed to hold the dialogue in the near future at a mutually convenient date," an Energy Department official said.

Human rights activists say India's anger about the strip search misses the bigger issue. They say the mistreatment of domestic workers is a widespread and often overlooked problem worldwide.

Officials from both nations have repeatedly said that they hope the issue does not undermine their relations.

-- CNN"s Jethro Mullen and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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