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Amazon sparks unwelcome diplomatic incident over doormat

Amazon has been forced to pull a doormat resembling the Indian flag from its Canadian website following threats from India's government. India's foreign minister had threatened to ban employees from entering the country.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday threatened to ban online retailer Amazon's foreign employees from entering the country if the company did not stop selling a doormat resembling the tri-color Indian flag on its Canadian website.

Amazon Canada, through a third-party seller, sells doormats fashioned around national flags. However, under Indian law, any desecration to the flag is punishable with fines and even imprisonment.

Amazon subsequently obliged and pulled the product.

Swaraj, whose prolific social media activity makes her one of India's most popular politicians, tweeted that the sale of the doormat an "unacceptable" insult to the country and that "Amazon must tender unconditional apology."

"They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately," Swaraj said. "If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier."

Swaraj added that she had urged the Indian High Commission in Canada to take up the issue with Amazon after a Twitter user from Mumbai brought it to her attention.

Before withdrawing the product, Amazon sought to reassure angry and concerned Twitter users, saying the mats were not being sold their Indian portal and that the issue was being dealt with.

Amazon courting Indian buyers despite controversy

Wednesday's incident was neither Amazon's first brush of controversy in India, nor even concerning doormats. Last year, the "New Indian Express" newspaper reported that the online retailer had gotten into trouble for selling doormats bearing images of Hindu deities.

Amazon is making a major bet on India since it entered the country's fiercely competitive and fast-growing e-commerce market in 2013. It plans to invest some $5 billion (4.7 billion euro) in its India operations as it looks gain market share from the region's home-grown online giants, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos indicated last year that India was the company's fastest growing region.

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dm/es (Reuters, dpa)

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