Outrage in India over diplomat’s arrest in US; Jobless in UK at four-year low; Kim-dom of chaos

1 Outrage in India over diplomat’s arrest in US (Gardiner Harris in The New York Times) The way an Indian diplomat was treated by law enforcement officials in New York last week has touched off a furor in India, where politicians from across the political spectrum expressed outrage and the New Delhi police retaliated by removing security barriers that were meant to protect the American Embassy.

The diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, was arrested and accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her housekeeper and paying the housekeeper far less than the minimum legal wage. Indian officials said that Ms. Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed on the street as she was leaving her daughter at school, and that she was kept in a holding cell with drug addicts before she was released on $250,000 bail.

By far the most troubling part for Indians are assertions that Ms. Khobragade, 39, was strip-searched after her arrest. Some Indian newspapers published reports claiming that she was subjected to repeated cavity searches. The Indian national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, has called such treatment “despicable” and “barbaric.”

Indian officials, in addition to removing the maze of concrete security barriers surrounding the American Embassy compound, have demanded that the embassy provide details about all the Indians it employs, as well as the names and salaries of teachers at the American Embassy School; that the embassy commissary stop importing liquor; and that diplomatic identification cards for consular staff members and their families be returned. The State Department expressed concern on Tuesday about removal of the security barriers near the embassy.

It is not unusual in India for domestic staff to be paid poorly and be required to work more than 60 hours a week; they are sometimes treated abominably. Reports of maids being imprisoned or abused by their employers are frequent. But the idea of a middle-class woman being arrested and ordered to disrobe is seen as shocking. Airport security procedures in India provide separate lines for women, and any pat-down searches are performed behind curtains.

2 UK jobless at four-year low (Graeme Wearden on BBC) Employment minister Esther McVey has said the economy is on the “right path”, following the fall in the jobless rate to a four and a half-year low.

McVey said that today’s unemployment data was a good sign: We can say today, we have hit a record high of the number of people in employment, with 30 million people in work.

She also tried to calm fears that the Bank of England might raise interest rates soon, pointing out that the 7% level set in its forward guidance is not a trigger for action (as governor Mark Carney reiterated last night).

3 Kim-dom of chaos (Mahir Ali in Khaleej Times) Despicable hormone is not an altogether unusual turn of phrase in the context of colourful official pronouncements from Pyongyang. What makes it remarkable is that it was part of a lurid description of North Korea’s second-most powerful man. And not just that: Jang Song-thaek also happened to be the supreme leader’s uncle. His fall from grace would have been intriguing even if it had not swiftly been followed by brutal retribution. As the official news agency KCNA put it, once a military tribunal gave its verdict, “the decision was immediately executed”. Unofficial reports suggest a machine-gun was used to carry out the sentence.

It is not unknown for members of North Korea’s ruling family to be sidelined. The nation’s founding father, Kim Il-sung, banished one his brothers to the countryside in the mid-1970s, and Jang himself appears to have been purged at least once and possibly twice in the past — he not only survived but was able to return to the hierarchy. A year or so before he died in December 2011, the present ruler’s father, Kim Jong-il, picked his sister, Kim Kyong-hui, and her husband — Jang — to groom his designated heir, Kim Jong-un, for the leadership. The latter’s turn at the top appears to have come rather sooner than anyone expected, which evidently made Jang the power behind the throne.

One of the primary problems with reflecting on developments in North Korea is that external knowledge about the secretive Kim-dom is strictly limited and based largely on hearsay. As a result, opinions about what exactly is going on and the possible consequences tends to be highly speculative. In the present instance, for example, analysts initially presumed that Jang’s fate would also reflect on his wife (now his widow), but it was indicated at the weekend that Kim Kyong-hui had been named as a member of the ruling Workers’ Party’s funeral committee. It is unclear whether the irony was intentional, but this is supposedly a prestigious position.

In its present state, North Korea cannot indefinitely endure — although predictions of its demise have proved premature in the past. How soon the House of Kim might crumble remains an open question. It may well remain superficially intact for decades to come, but there is also a distinct possibility that the end could come as suddenly as it did for Jang.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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