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Newsline: Embassies forced to cut back as budget crisis hits Foreign Office

British embassies are cutting counter-terrorism and security funding, banning hospitality, and imposing pay cuts and four-day weeks on local staff as a budget crisis engulfs the Foreign Office. The fall in the pound has left the Foreign Office nursing a 12 per cent deficit in its core budget this year, forcing it to stop discretionary spending. The problems arise from the Treasury decision in late 2007 to stop shielding it from currency fluctuations, a few months before sterling’s 30 per cent decline against the dollar. As a result the Foreign Office lost about £100m from its £830m core budget this financial year, in spite of attempts to hedge. The shortfall is expected to rise to £120m in 2010-11, close to 15 per cent of the core budget. An expected rise in annual UN payments is expected to make the situation worse. Almost half Foreign Office spending is in foreign currency and 80 per cent of embassy budgets are non-discretionary, covering staff and accommodation costs. Scores of local staff have been sacked in the US and Japan with others on unpaid leave. Officials are warning that the budget crunch – triggered by an obscure change in Treasury currency rules – is allowing “foreign exchange to drive foreign policy”. One diplomat said privately that it “had cut the legs from under our foreign policy”.



Newsline: Embassy started high school for Indonesian maids

Getting an education, picking up skills and even learning how to be entrepreneurs are how a growing number of maids in Singapore are spending their Sundays. The Indonesian Embassy started a high school where Indonesian maids can study subjects such as maths and science and earn high school certificates. About 120 are currently enrolled.


Newsline: Britain and US protest after India tightens tourism rules

Britain and the US have lodged a diplomatic protest with India after the government in Delhi introduced rules barring tourists from returning to the country within two months of any visit. The new visa rules, which also apply to other foreign nationals, are apparently a reaction to the arrest in the US of a Mumbai terror suspect, David Coleman Headley, who had entered India on a multiple-entry visa. The British high commission in Delhi has urged the Indian government to rethink the policy, which is expected to hit tourists planning to use India as a base for touring the region. It will also be a blow to thousands of Britons living in India on long-term tourist visas. Many foreigners living in India prefer to use tourist visas rather than go through the complicated process of trying to secure a visa that would grant them the right to residency. Some apply for six-month tourist visas and then travel to nearby countries, such as Nepal, to renew them. Those on longer-term tourist visas, for five or 10 years, are also required to leave the country every 180 days and tend to fly out for a couple of days before returning. Under the new rules, that would no longer be an option. Many British passport holders with Indian origins use tourist visas to visit relatives in India rather than tackling the bureaucratic minefield involved in applying for a Person of Indian Origin card, which would allow them entry into the country. The Indian government has apparently sought to defuse the row by giving consular officials the power to grant exemptions in exceptional cases, although there is as yet no clarity on how that might be applied. Ironically, the clampdown comes as the country attempts to boost its tourism industry. Last week the home minister, P Chidambaram, announced the trial introduction of a visa on arrival scheme for citizens of Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Finland and said a country the size of India should be attracting at least 50 million visitors a year. About five million tourists visit India every year. A final draft of the visa regulations is expected to be issued next month but in the meantime a number of embassies in India have notified their citizens of the changes.


Newsline: Canada starts issuing visas for Czechs in Prague

Canada has started issuing tourist visas at its embassy in Prague, as a result of which the Czechs travelling to Canada will no longer have to apply for visas via Vienna. The visa department is being opened in Prague almost half a year after the reintroduction of visas for Czechs by Canada in mid-July. Canada reimposed visa requirements on Czechs on July 14 because a high number of Czech citizens, mainly Romanies, applied for asylum after arriving in Canada. In Prague, Ottawa’s decision caused displeasure. The Czech Republic will continue calling on other EU countries to help it press on Canada that reintroduced visas for Czechs even after Canada opens a visa office in Prague. Canada has not stated so far when the visa would be lifted. The EU has threatened to introduce visas for Canadian diplomats unless Canada facilitates the issuing of visas for Czech citizens and sets clear conditions for the renewal of visa-free relations. Brussels set the end of 2009 as a deadline for Ottawa in this respect.


Newsline: Ukrainian Envoy in South Korea Accused of Drunk Driving

The Ukrainian ambassador to Korea crashed into two vehicles while allegedly driving intoxicated, injuring one of the two Korean drivers involved. According to police, Ambassador Volodymyr Belashov, 58, crashed into a luxury sedan somewhere around a large shopping mall in Myeongdong, central Seoul, at 9:25 p.m., May 12. But he kept driving and then ran into another vehicle, a taxi, about five minutes later near Jangchung Gymnasium. Police officers rushed to the scene to perform a field sobriety test, but the ambassador locked himself in his car for one-and-a-half hours and refused to take the test, citing diplomatic immunity. At that time, police allowed the ambassador to leave the scene. Ambassador Belashov spent nearly three decades representing Ukraine at the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) before being posted to in Korea in October last year. The case was disclosed after the government announced measures to minimize the abuse of immunity privileges by diplomats. The government put into effect a new guideline aimed at curbing the abuse of diplomatic privileges, Dec. 21, amid growing concerns over infractions of this power by diplomats.


Newsline: Croatia’s ex-ambassador to France sentenced over fraud

A former Croatian ambassador to France was sentenced to 20 months on probation over embezzling some 104,000 euros (150,000 dollars), which he must return. Marko Zaja was found guilty by a Zagreb court for paying some 43,000 euros for three paintings while the painter has received 2,000 euros only. The 72-year-old was also sentenced for claiming that he had paid some 61,000 euros to a Paris company for renovation of the embassy’s furniture. However, the renovation was done in Zagreb. The embezzlement took place in 1999 and 2000. The court said it decided on a sentence of probation due to Zaja’s age.


Newsline: China opens consulate-general in Russia’s Irkutsk

China opened a consulate-general in Irkutsk, which the Chinese ambassador to Russia Li Hui said would inject new impetus into China-Russia cooperation at a regional level. The consular district of China’s consulate-general in Irkutsk includes Russia’s Irkutsk region, Zabaikalye Krai, as well as republics of Buryat, Tuva and Khakass.