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Guardian journalist had problems with past visits to Russia - Lavrov

Sergei LavrovMOSCOW, February 10 (RIA Novosti)-British journalist Luke Harding, expelled from Russia last week, had problems with his stay in the country in the past, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with BBC.

Harding was refused reentry to Russia at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport on Saturday after being absent from the country for two months. He was put on a plane back to Britain, and there were reports that his visa, valid until May 31, 2011, was annulled.

"I looked into the case of Harding," Lavrov told BBC. "And he had some problems with his stay in Russia in the past," he continued adding that the reporter visited places in Russia, which are closed and require a special permit.

Lavrov said Harding asked to extend his visa until May this year so his children could finish the school year. The journalist was also "issued an extended certificate for foreign correspondents" but he did not collect it and went to London.

"If he wants to work in Russia he needs to resolve the situation with the certificate," Lavrov said.

Answering whether the incident may affect Russian-UK relations, Lavrov said that he does not think so.

Lavrov said Wednesday that "no one annulled his visa" and that Harding was refused entry because he had failed to collect his accreditation documents before leaving Russia for two months at the end of last year.

Harding rejected the claim. "The ministry says I was kicked out because I 'failed to pick up press card.' Hilarious," he wrote on his Twitter blog on Wednesday.

Harding had fallen foul of the Russian authorities on a number of occasions, mainly for filing articles claiming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a $40 billion offshore account. He was also responsible for reporting on U.S. diplomatic cables leaked to The Guardian by WikiLeaks, including allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin has become a "virtual mafia state."

Harding told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that the British paper was examining a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry that he would be able to receive a new visa if he correctly followed accreditation procedures for foreign journalists.

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