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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
NY parking immunity row defused
Traffic in New York City
Manhattan is notoriously short of parking space
Foreign consuls in New York have won a reprieve from having their cars towed away for non-payment of parking tickets, following a last-minute intervention by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.


The agreement is not signed, but we are optimistic enough to not tow some cars today

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had vowed to start removing illegally-parked consular vehicles from Friday.

The city has been fighting a long battle to try to force diplomats to pay their outstanding fines, which total more than $21m.

However, Mr Bloomberg said a tentative settlement was reached with the US State Department, which had been trying to stop the city from acting on its threat.

Eleventh-hour

"We have an agreement in principle," Mr Bloomberg said.

NY sign
The thought does occur to many diplomats
"It is not signed. But we are optimistic enough to not tow some cars today."

Mr Bloomberg said the agreement was the result of a call from Mr Powell on Friday morning, hours before the trucks were ready to start removing cars.

The last-minute negotiations broke the latest impasse in a decades-old controversy over diplomatic abuses of city parking laws.

The State Department has promised to cut significantly the number of consular license plates it issues and to help the city collect unpaid fines, Mr Bloomberg said.

Retaliation

While diplomats are expected to obey the laws of host countries, international treaties guarantee them immunity from prosecution.

The UN building illuminated for the millennium
UN diplomats still enjoy immunity
New York City's concentration of consulates and diplomatic missions to the United Nations has created an ongoing problem for police trying to enforce traffic and parking regulations.

The city says it has the right act against all offenders - although its threat to tow away cars applied to consular vehicles, not to those with UN-registered plates.

Egypt is said to be the worst offender, owing $1.6m for more than 15,000 tickets.

Other leading violators cited by the city include Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Brazil, Greece, Pakistan and China.

State Department officials have warned that a crackdown could lead to retaliation against US diplomats in other countries.

See also:

28 Oct 98 | e-cyclopedia
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