Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for September 24, 2012

Commentary: From Nigeria to Athens, Muslim protests rumble on

Muslims protested in Nigeria, Iran, Greece and Turkey on Sunday to show anti-Western anger against a film and cartoons insulting Islam had not dissipated. As delegates from around the world gathered in New York for a UN General Assembly where the clash between free speech and blasphemy is bound to be raised, US flags were once again burnt in parts of the Muslim world. Iranian students chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” outside the French embassy in Tehran in protest at the decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, days after widespread protests – some deadly – against a film made in the United States. Shi’ite Muslims in the Nigerian town of Katsina burned US, French and Israeli flags and a religious leader called for protests to continue until the makers of the film and cartoons are punished. In Pakistan, where fifteen people were killed in protests on Friday, a government minister has offered $100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the short, amateurish video The Innocence of Muslims. Calls have increased for a UN measure outlawing insults to Islam and blasphemy in general. In Athens, some protesters hurled bottles of water, stones and shoes at police who responded with teargas. Calm returned when demonstrators interrupted the protest to pray. Protests around the world were relatively small and calm, but Western embassies remained on alert after the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in one of the first protests, on September 11.



Newsline: China gets land in Maldives to construct embassy

China has been allotted a plot in the heart of the Maldivian capital to open its embassy. Chinese embassy currently works out from a rented complex and the plot has been allotted to it to construct its own building. China had opened its embassy in November last year in a rented building belonging to the family of former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. China had then said that it was opening an embassy since ties with the Maldives had grown steadily. Chinese tourists constitute the largest chunk of annual visitors to the island chain’s pristine beaches. Only India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have an established diplomatic presence in the Maldives, whose capital Male only has a population of about 100,000. Most other countries work through their embassies in Sri Lanka, 650 km away.


Newsline: Greece denies reports of selling consulate building

The Greek Embassy in Ankara has denied recent reports suggesting that the Greek consulate building in Izmir was now on the market due to the Aegean country’s struggling economy. Ankara Ambassy Press official Elizabeth Mako said the building was currently being restored. Earlier reports claimed that the Greek authorities were selling a number of properties, including a consulate building in the Aegean province of Izmir, due to increasing financial woes. Consulate buildings in Britain and Brussels, a previous embassy building in Berlin and properties owned by the Greek state in Paris and Greek Cyprus were reportedly some of the other items on the list.


Newsline: Embassy seeks consular access to 1000 Indians held in Kuwait

Indian Embassy in Kuwait is seeking consular access to over 1,000 Indians who have been detained by the authorities in the Gulf nation in an alleged case of visa misuse, a top official has said. Vidhu P Nair, Charge de Affaires at the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, said that the Embassy has managed to track down and collate documents of around 650 Indians. He said five officials from the Embassy are constantly pursuing the matter. On Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior arrested over 2,000 individuals across the country for expired residency and involvement in drug, theft, liquor and other such cases during impromptu security campaigns. Around 1,800 of these are believed to be Indians even though the exact number is unclear.


Newsline: Canada’s plan to share embassies with Britain stirs up critics

The Union Jack and the Maple Leaf may soon fly side by side at embassies and consulates around the world, as part of a new cost-saving foreign affairs agreement between Britain and Canada, prompting concern that a hybrid diplomatic channel could weaken Canada’s global standing. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and British Foreign Secretary William Hague announces plans Monday in Ottawa to begin sharing embassy space and resources. The arrangement is being touted as a money-saving move to offset budget cuts to diplomatic missions against the desire to establish a larger presence in emerging markets such as China and India. Paul Heinbecker, the former Canadian ambassador to Germany and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York, warned that the relationship with a former colonial power in many parts of Asia and Africa could be a net negative. The agreement, according to sources, will include not just sharing real estate, but working together in other areas – representing civilians abroad, providing passports and visas, and dealing with emergencies such as revolutions, disasters and evacuations. The two countries will not share diplomatic representation, sources said – so British diplomats would not present Canadian views to foreign governments, or vice versa. While combining resources for security may save on costs, there is some concern that it would add to the security risks for Canadian diplomats, especially in the Middle East. “The idea that we have a sufficient amount in common with the British that it makes sense that we share premises as a matter of routine, that, I think, is a mistake,” Mr. Heinbecker said. Sharing diplomatic space and services isn’t uncommon between countries: Canada and Britain, for instance, already have several such arrangements, though none of them announced with the fanfare of an afternoon press conference in Ottawa. In Mali, British diplomats are housed in the Canadian embassy. In Myanmar, where Canada has just reopened its diplomatic presence, a sole Canadian is housed in the British embassy. Britain also has some similar arrangements with Australia. Money is certainly a significant driver in the decision: The foreign service in both countries is trying to manage cutbacks while reserving funds for new consulates and trade offices in booming economic markets. Britain is cutting £100-million ($160-million) from its Foreign Office budget, while Canada’s Foreign Affairs department is cutting $170-million.