Indian minister pans new visa rules on Twitter

NEW DELHI, December 28, 2009 (AFP) – India’s Twitter-loving junior foreign minister has used the microblogging site to criticise his government’s move to tighten rules for long-term tourist visas, his account showed Monday. Shashi Tharoor questioned the logic behind the tougher rules, saying the Islamist militants behind last year’s Mumbai attacks hijacked a boat and entered the city from Pakistan by sea.

“Issue is not security vs tourism, but whether visa restrictions protect our security. 26/11 killers had no visas,” he wrote on Twitter.

Under the previous rules, foreigners on five or 10-year visas were required to leave India every 180 days. Many would simply fly to a neighbouring country for a brief stay before returning.

Since November 4, they face the same 180-day deadline, but will have to stay out of the country for two months before they can re-enter.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said last week the new guidelines were issued “to facilitate bonafide tourists.”

The ministry is probing why its Chicago consulate granted multiple visas to a Pakistani-American, David Coleman Headley, who is accused of helping plan the Mumbai siege in which 166 people died.