Russia says ready to readmit British reporter

9th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia is ready to give expelled British Guardian journalist Luke Harding a new visa if he resolves outstanding administrative problems, the foreign ministry here said Wednesday.

"If Mr. Harding wants to continue to work in Russia -- and we see no obstacle -- he has to regularise his status in line with our accreditation rules for foreign journalists," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said Harding should request a visa from London that Russian authorities would be willing to grant.

"He can continue his journalistic activity only for the time period" Harding has been granted as the Guardian's correspondent in Russia, Lukashevich added.

Harding flew back to the Russian capital at the weekend after two months in London reporting on the contents of the US cables, given to his paper by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

But he was refused entry when his passport was checked on arrival and after 45 minutes in an airport cell was sent back to Britain on the next available plane, according to the London-based daily.

The Guardian said the incident was believed to be the first removal of a British staff journalist from the country since the end of the Cold War.

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry suggested the matter was simply a violation of procedural authorities and Harding could theoretically return to Russia.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later explained that Harding had illegally reported from parts of the North Caucasus where Russian troops were conducting so-called counter-terrorist operations.

For its part, The Guardian said it was "baffled" by the Russian explanation and said it confirmed to a "pattern of behaviour" by the Russian foreign ministry which initially expelled Harding last November.

It was ultimately understood Harding would have to leave Russia by May 2011, the newspaper said.

Harding's expulsion follows his reporting in December on assessments of modern Russia from the US cables, which listed a string of damaging allegations about the links between top officials, oligarchs and organised crime.

© 2011 AFP

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