NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's foreign ministry summoned Saudi Arabia's ambassador over allegations one of the Middle East country's officials repeatedly raped two Nepali maids, sparking a diplomatic row ahead of a planned state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Saudi Arabia is pressing India to drop the case, while Nepal wants justice for its two citizens who say they were kidnapped, gang-raped and starved over several months at the diplomat's home close to New Delhi.India's foreign ministry on Thursday summoned Ambassador Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saty to relay a request from police for cooperation while they investigate the case, spokesman Vikas Swarup said.
In a statement reported in Indian media, the Saudi embassy said the allegations were false and the police broke international conventions by raiding a diplomatic property. The embassy did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.Modi is scheduled to make a rare visit by an Indian leader to Saudi Arabia later this year, part of a strategy of winning investment from cash-rich oil states and to expand cooperation in the energy sector. At the same time, Modi has made improving relations with neighboring Nepal one of his top priorities, as concerns grow over China's influence in the Himalayan nation."India needs to carefully balance supporting the ongoing investigation to satisfy Nepal and the Indian public, while not alienating Saudi too much – it is not easy," said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group.
Modi's visit to Nepal in August 2014, soon after coming to power, ranks as one of his early diplomatic successes. It is the only country he has visited twice.
Thousands of women from Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, go to India and the Middle East to work as maids. Police cannot immediately arrest diplomats because the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations gives them immunity from arrest, criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits in the countries where they are posted.Police said in a statement on Thursday they had sent the details of their investigation to the foreign ministry and had sought its advice on how to proceed."We are awaiting further instructions from the MEA, who now have to guide and assist us to carry out this investigation," Commissioner of Police Navdeep Singh Virk said.Earlier, about 50 protesters gathered outside the Saudi embassy shouting slogans demanding justice for the women and carrying placards reading "No immunity for rapists."
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)