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An Indian professor of organic chemistry was denied a visa by US immigration. Goverdhan Mehta, 62, was hoping to attend a scientific conference in Florida, but was denied permission by the embassy in New Dehli.

Now a row has erupted between US officials, who say the application was merely delayed, and the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU), which is expressing "grave concern" over their more stringent policies since September 11.

Hilariously-named ICSU deputy executive director Carthage Smith told Reuters: "Professor Mehta is a very well-known scientist, but there are many lesser known scientists to whom this is happening. The bigger issue is important."

Professor Mehta was subjected to "hostile treatment" at the embassy, and asked to prove that his work could not be used for chemical weapons. When asked what his doctoral thesis was about, he could not remember details. He told the Deccan Herald in Bangalore: "I did my PhD 40 years ago. I told them I did not remember the topic. Science has progressed and changed completely since then."

ICSU, which promotes free exchange of world science said: "It clearly illustrates that, despite some progress, all is far from well with regards to the visa policies and associated practices for scientists wishing to enter the USA."

A typically humourless spokesman for the US consulate said: "He was asked for additional information and the application can be processed, it can be continued." ®

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