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Newsline: 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti; embassy buildings collapse

A powerful earthquake struck Haiti’s capital on Tuesday with withering force, toppling everything from simple shacks to the ornate National Palace and the headquarters of United Nations peacekeepers. The dead and injured lay in the streets even as strong aftershocks rippled through the impoverished Caribbean country. The National Palace crumbled into itself, but President Rene Preval and his wife survived the earthquake. UN peacekeepers, most of whom are from Brazil, were trying to rescue survivors from their collapsed five-story headquarters, but UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said late Tuesday that “as we speak no one has been rescued.” Many UN personnel were missing, said Le Roy, including mission chief Hedi Annabi, who was in the building when the quake struck. Some 9,000 peacekeepers have been in Haiti since a 2004 rebellion ousted the president. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalized for undisclosed injuries. The Canadian Embassy in Port-au-prince has been evacuated as a precautionary measure. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington that U.S. Embassy personnel were “literally in the dark” after power failed.


Newsline: Saudi embassy in Stockholm comes under attack

Unknown assailants have attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sweden by throwing a Molotov cocktail at a window that overlooks the street. The incident caused no injuries among the Embassy staff. The building itself did not suffer any damage, except for the broken window. Work has not stopped at the Embassy and its doors are still open to the public. Immediately after the incident, the Embassy staff contacted Swedish authorities, asking for a full inquiry.


Newsline: Libya Summons US Ambassador, Protests Inclusion on Air Security Watch List

Libya has strongly protested against the US decision to include the country on the list of 14 countries whose nationals would undergo a systematic check before boarding a plane to the US. The Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation (GPCFLIC), Moussa Koussa summoned the US ambassador in Tripoli Gene Cretz to strongly protest against the American decision. In response, the US ambassador explained that Libya had nothing to do with the decision and its inclusion on the list does in no way mean that the US government re-enlisted Libya among countries sponsoring terrorism. “Not all countries on the list are sponsors of terrorism and that the US government believes that extremist movements used to exist in these countries and now are being monitored as not to enter the US,” Cretz said. The US list includes passengers traveling from or through nations listed as “state sponsors of terrorism” — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.


Newsline: Visa delays prompt Miliband to visit Pakistan

At a time when the anger among the visa seekers for UK is growing, British Foreign Minister Miliband has arrived in Pakistan on two days visit to defuse a raging row between Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry and the United Kingdom over a range of immigration-related issues including unexplained delay in issuance of visas being the most contentious of all. Officials of British High Commission Islamabad have strongly denied this impression saying Miliband has come here to hear from Pakistan’s leaders about the political, economic and security challenges it faces and how it’s going to resolve them. But Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made it clear to Miliband that UK will have to ease visa policy for Pakistanis. It is pertinent to note here that UK visa denial to Pakistanis has sparked anger among many especially the spouse visa seekers. According to an estimate that the senior Pakistani officials dealing with the issue, as many as 200,000 passports were lying with the British High Commission in Islamabad, whereas the applicants’ papers were being processed by the officials of the UK Border Agency in Abu Dhabi, which now handles all visa applications from Pakistan. However, the officials of British High Commission denied this report saying there has been no delay in visa processing.


Newsline: US lifts HIV ‘entry ban’

Being infected with HIV will no longer be an “ineligibility” when foreign citizens apply for visas to travel to the US. Foreign citizens would also no longer be required to take an HIV test during medical examinations for visa purposes and HIV positive applicants would no longer require waiver processing by the US department of homeland security. The change took effect on January 4 following a US ruling in November removing HIV infection from the definition of communicable disease of public health significance.


Newline: US Embassy – Bali Governor Warns Of Possible Attack

The U.S. Embassy is warning of a possible terrorist attack on Indonesia’s Bali island on New Year’s Eve. The embassy sent e-mails to U.S. citizens Thursday quoting Bali’s governor as saying “There is an indication of an attack to Bali tonight.” The warning comes six months after twin suicide blasts killed seven people at luxury hotels in the capital, Jakarta. The resort island of Bali has been hit hard by Islamic militants, with more than 220 people killed in suicide bombings in 2002 and 2005 targeting Westerners.


Newsline: UK embassy an al-Qaeda target

The British embassy in Sanaa was the target of an al-Qaeda suicide plot foiled by Yemeni authorities last week. An al-Qaeda cell dismantled in Arhab, 35km north of the capital, last week was aimed at infiltrating and blowing up targets, including the British embassy, foreign interests and government buildings. The attack on the British embassy was to be modelled on the operation that was carried out against the American embassy in 2008, which killed 16 people.


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.