Saturday, October 22, 2005

Unfortunate...

From The Indian Express

The Indo-French relationship, recently sweetened by the Prime Minister’s visit, the multi-billion-dollar Scorpene submarine deal and the Airbus purchase, has just turned sour. A peculiar visa row has escalated to such an extent that the Ministry of External Affairs, in an unprecedented move, has asked all government departments to put on hold any official visit to France.

In an October 19 letter, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has asked all Secretaries of government departments to not even plan for transit stops in France. Training programmes are on hold, officials have been asked not to attend social functions hosted by the French Embassy.

This, sources say, was provoked by an ‘‘informal ban’’ that the French have been practising over the past two weeks by not granting diplomatic visas to Indian officials. This apparently was prompted by a refusal of visas by the Indian Embassy in Paris to some French journalists. Efforts were made to contact the French Embassy late tonight but there was no response.

The retaliatory effect started with the French embassy refusing visas to officials accompanying Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who was to address an association of Indians in Paris en route to Geneva for the International Parliamentary Union.

His delegation was to leave on the night of October 13 and while Chatterjee and his wife got their French visas, his official staff did not. This included Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Achary and other officials. So the team was split with one going to Geneva via Paris with Chatterjee and the other via Frankfurt which included MPs Hema Malini, Ajit Singh and Mohammed Salim and Secretary General (Rajya Sabha) Yogendra Narain.

Chatterjee decided to call off the Paris stopover and, instead, worked out a different route via London.

Saran is understood to have contacted the French Ambassador that evening and is said to have been told that the Paris official had claimed that ‘‘computers had a problem’’ during the day. Subsequently, it’s learnt that no other official or delegation has been given visas by French authorities.

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