Hong Lei

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In a press conference today, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Hong Lei, above, evaded questions about Al-Jazeera being denied journalist visas. (AP/Andy Wong)

"The Beijing branch of Al-Jazeera is still functioning normally."

This was not an auspicious reaction to the news that Al-Jazeera English has closed its Beijing bureau after being refused journalist visas. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Hong Lei's responses at today's press conference did not improve from there, according to a partial transcript published by Voice of America. His explanations for the ministry's refusal to renew credentials for the channel's Beijing correspondent Melissa Chan were a mixture of denial and obfuscation. (Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language bureau continues to operate with several accredited journalists, according to The Associated Press.)

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