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India asks Canada to remove 41 diplomatic staff from Delhi embassy

India has told Canada to remove 41 of its 62 staff in the country, in an escalation of diplomatic tensions between the two countries. 

According to officials who spoke to the Financial Times, the Indian foreign ministry has given Canada a week to repatriate two-thirds of its diplomats stationed in India, reducing the number to 21. An official familiar with the matter confirmed the report to the Associated Press. Those who stayed past 10 October would lose their diplomatic immunity, the Financial Times first reported.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment, but ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had previously called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered India’s staffing in Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh leader who was killed by masked gunmen in June in Surrey, outside Vancouver.

On Tuesday, Trudeau didn’t confirm the number of diplomats who have been told to leave but suggested Canada would not retaliate.

“Obviously, we are going through an extremely challenging time with India right now, but that’s why it is so important for us to have diplomats on the ground working with the Indian government and there to support Canadians and Canadian families,” Trudeau said. “We’re taking this extremely seriously, but we’re going to continue to engage responsibly and constructively with the Indian government.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said she’s in contact with the Indian government.

“We will continue to engage privately because we think that diplomatic conversations are best when they remain private,” Joly said.

The allegation of India’s involvement in the killing is based in part on the surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a separate Canadian official previously told The Associated Press.

The official said that the communications involved Indian officials and diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The latest expulsions by India have escalated tensions between the countries. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during last month’s Group of 20 meeting in New Delhi, and a few days later, Canada cancelled a trade mission to India planned for the fall.

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