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Amazon Canada in hot water with Indian minister for selling Indian flag doormats

India's external affairs minister sends tweets demanding Amazon apologize and withdraw a product she says insults the Indian flag and threatens to withhold visas from Amazon staff in India.

Minister tweeted she would revoke visas for Amazon staff in India if they didn't apologize, withdraw product

India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is an active Twitter user. She threatened to revoke visas from online retailer Amazon's staff after the Canadian company sold doormats printed with the Indian flag. (Associated Press)

The online retailer Amazon is facing some heat after India's external affairs minister demanded on Twitter it remove an item she said insulted the national flag.

The Twitter storm began after a tweet alerting Minister Sushma Swaraj that Amazon.ca was selling doormats which have the Indian flag printed on them.

Sold by a third party, the product has caused some online controversy and was the subject of a change.org petition demanding its removal.

On Wednesday, she tweeted the product was unacceptable and asked the Indian High Commission in Canada to take it up with Amazon at the highest level.

Then, she demanded an "unconditional apology" from Amazon and a "withdrawal of all products insulting our national flag immediately."

She issued a threat saying she would not grant an Indian visa to any Amazon official and rescind previously issued visas, if such products weren't removed.

Swaraj — with almost seven million followers —  is an active Twitter user and regularly employs social media to conduct her affairs. In July 2016, she tweeted that laid-off Indian workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia would be taken care of after thousands of workers lost their jobs.

Amazon responds

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Amazon Canada simply said "the item is no longer for sale on the site."

On Thursday, the ministry's official spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, tweeted out a letter attributed to Amit Agarwal, the vice president of Amazon India, who wrote "at no time did we intend or mean to offend Indian sentiments."

It's not the first time the online retailer has come under fire for selling offensive products. In 2015, CBC Go Public profiled a long-time customer who had advocated for the removal of Nazi paraphernalia from the online store.

Amazon has attempted to establish dominance in India's online market — which some have described as the world's next big e-commerce opportunity. However, it faces stiff competition from India-based rival Flipkart which was started in 2007 by two former Amazon employees.

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