Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Diplomacy prevails around empty embassy sites in Canberra

The National Capital Authority has asked the Russian Embassy to get a move on with its Forster Crescent block, which is lying undeveloped in Yarralumla despite earlier calls to use it or lose it. Last month authority chief planner Andrew Smith confirmed he had written to the embassy asking about the status of the land, where a large fence surrounds a site where grass grows over mounds of dirt and unpacked bricks are piled. The Yarralumla block is in the diplomatic enclave and within view of Parliament House. Russia was reported to be starting work in 2015, but last year, it revealed that the builder it had engaged to develop the site had gone broke. Also in 2015, Iran was given a deadline of early 2015 to start construction at its prime Yarralumla block which had been sitting empty for about 20 years. But around the corner from the Russian block, across from the sprawling United States mission, a block leased by the Iranian Embassy remains empty. Although the Iranian mission had plans to develop the site this year, it has been stymied by the recent death of the architect it engaged to oversee a new building. These are just two examples of an ongoing problem with leases on Canberra’s diplomatic estate, overseen by the National Capital Authority. The “use it or lose policy”, introduced as part of an inquiry launched in 2012 into vacant embassy blocks, has forced many diplomatic missions to stop stalling on plans to develop their allocated land, or risk giving it up for other nations. But while there is no more free land in Canberra’s diplomatic areas, Mr Smith said there were still at least 12 parcels of land in Yarralumla, Deakin and O’Malley that are leased by foreign missions but remain undeveloped, although all the lessees had taken action to prove there were plans “in the pipeline”. In the meantime, the authority has been told to expect “one or two countries” to seek permission to establish missions in Canberra annually over the next 20 years, while still managing the ongoing demand for expanded or relocated missions. Other options, such as allowing existing embassies to subdivide their sites and hand back existing land, or to establish missions in commercial areas, have been successful, but many countries still, unsurprisingly, want large sites to build free-standing embassies or compounds.



Newsline: Poland demands explanation after diplomat beaten up in Russia

The Polish embassy in Moscow has demanded an explanation after a Polish diplomat was beaten up in Russia. The incident took place when the diplomat was on a plane to Moscow from the far-eastern Russian city of Irkutsk, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported, citing a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Warsaw. The assailant, who appeared to be mentally unstable, was detained after the incident, the spokesman, Artur Lompart, said, according to IAR. The Polish diplomat was provided with immediate assistance, underwent a medical examination and has since returned to Poland, Lompart said.


Newsline: Julian Assange Soon May Be Kicked Out of Ecuadorean Embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may soon be evicted from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London after six years as high-level talks continue between that country and Britain, The New York Post reported. Citing The Times of London, the Post said that Assange’s fate at the embassy, where he has been since 2012, depended on the outcome of the discussions. Former President Rafael Correa granted Assange, 47, asylum after he was accused of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. But his successor, Lenin Moreno, who was elected in May, considers Assange an inherited problem and has ripped him as a “stone in the shoe.”


Newsline: British Ex-ambassador to US Christopher Meyer Brutally Attacked in London

A former British ambassador to the US is recovering in hospital following a brutal attack at a subway station that left him with severe facial injuries. Sir Christopher Meyer, 74, was left with heavily swollen eyes, a suspected broken nose, and a split lip after two youths beat him at London’s Victoria station. Meyer’s wife was cited by the Guardian as saying that the police believe the incident was a robbery gone bad. “The police told me they believe that it is more likely that they might have wanted to rob him,” said Lady Meyer. “Nothing was taken, but the transport police intervened quickly.”


Newsline: Man pleads guilty to shooting US diplomat in Mexico

A California man has pleaded guilty to shooting a U.S. diplomat in Mexico. Zia Zafar entered guilty pleas in a Virginia federal court Friday to attempted murder of an internationally protected person and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. The 33-year-old Zafar, of Chino Hills, California, admitted shooting and wounding a vice consul in Guadalajara on Jan. 6, 2017. Zafar is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 7. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for attempted murder and a mandatory minimum of 10 years on the firearm charge. The charges were filed in Virginia because Zafar was brought into the country in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Dulles International Airport is located.


Newsline: Dozens of defrauded Nigerians descend on their embassy in Moscow

More than 70 Nigerian citizens gathered at their country’s embassy in Moscow on Friday to complain that they were deceived into attending the World Cup on the promise that they could work while in Russia. The leader of a volunteer group told the magazine RBC that the first Nigerian tourists started reporting scammers as early as two weeks ago. They were reportedly sold “fan IDs” for $300 and round-trip tickets, and told they could earn money while in Moscow. When they arrived in the Russian capital, however, they learned that their documents don’t allow them to work, and the scammers quickly canceled their return tickets. On Thursday, a false rumor started spreading among the Nigerians in Moscow that Turkish Airlines had arranged a flight to take them home, but they were turned away at Sheremetyevo Airport, and police vans delivered them to the Nigerian embassy. More than 70 stranded tourists gathered at the embassy on Friday, and another several hundred are spread across the country.


Newsline: Eritrea to reopen embassy in Ethiopia’s capital on Sunday

Eritrea will reopen its embassy in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Sunday, Ethiopia’s state-affiliated broadcaster said on Friday, before a visit by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Fana Broadcasting quoted government spokesman Ahmed Shide as saying the Eritrean Embassy would be operational on Sunday.