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Journalists' organization cries foul after New York Times reporter forced to leave Beijing

An American journalist has been forced to leave China after Beijing authorities failed to grant him a new visa. The move has been criticized as an act of reprisal for critical reporting about senior Chinese politicians.

Austin Ramzy left Beijing on a flight bound for Taipei on Thursday, which was to be his new base for the immediate future, according to the DPA news agency.

"Sad to be leaving Beijing," Ramzy said via the micro-blogging website Twitter. "Hope I can return soon."

The New York Times released a statement indicating that it hoped Ramzy's move to Taiwan would be temporary.

"We will continue to work with Chinese authorities and hope to resolve the issue with his visa soon," the statement said.

The Chinese foreign ministry said earlier this week that an extension of Ramzy's current visa for the country would not be ready before the end of January, effectively forcing him to depart. It also blamed Ramzy, who has spent the past six years in China for the delay, saying he had failed to get his status changed after leaving Time magazine back in April to join the New York Times.

Criticism from journalists

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) though, rejected the foreign ministry's argumentation.

"Suggestions by Chinese officials that Mr Ramzy did not correctly comply with Chinese visa regulations are disingenuous," the FCCC said.

"The regulations are unclear and have not been applied to other journalists in similar situations to that of Ramzy," it added.

"In these circumstances it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the authorities are punishing the New York Times for articles it published concerning the wealth of former premier Wen Jiabao and his family."

Ramzy is the third New York Times journalist to encounter delays in the processing of a visa for China over the past couple of years. The paper's designated Beijing bureau chief, Philip Pan, remains based in Hong Kong, after waiting almost two years on a visa to allow him to work on the mainland. Chris Buckley was forced to leave when his visa expired in December 2012.

A foreign ministry spokesman, though, denied that the journalists had been targeted over critical reporting about Chinese officials.

"There's no such thing as foreign journalists being expelled from China," spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference on Wednesday.

"It is Chinese domestic affairs. We are firmly opposed to any individual or any government or organization interfering in China's domestic affairs."

pfd/kms (dpa, AFP)