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Archive for Monday, November 20, 2006

British police investigate poisoning of Putin critic

November 20, 2006

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— A former Russian spy poisoned in Britain and now hospitalized under guard may have been targeted for his criticism of former colleagues and his investigation into the killing of a prominent anti-Kremlin journalist, friends and fellow dissidents said Sunday.

Col. Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, said earlier this week that he fell ill on Nov. 1 following a meal with a contact who claimed to have details about the slaying of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist gunned down last month in Moscow.

A doctor treating Litvinenko told the British Broadcasting Corp. that tests showed he was the victim of poisoning by thallium - a toxic metal found in rat poison. He is under armed guard at University College Hospital in London, in "serious but stable" condition.

"He's got a prospect of recovering, he has a prospect of dying," said Dr. John Henry, a clinical toxicologist who treated Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004 after he was poisoned during his presidential election campaign. Henry said that thallium can cause damage to the nervous system and organ failure and that just one gram can be lethal.

In an interview with the Sunday Times before his condition worsened, Litvinenko described how he had lunch with an Italian contact who claimed to have had information on Politkovskaya's killing, which has not been solved. British news outlets identified the contact as Mario Scaramella, an Italian academic who helped investigate KGB activity in Italy during the Cold War.

Police have opened an investigation into the poisoning, said a spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with force policy.

Litvinenko left Russia for Britain six years ago and has become an outspoken critic of the Kremlin. In a 2003 book, "The FSB Blows Up Russia," he accused his country's secret service agency of staging apartment-house bombings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people in Russia and sparked the second war in Chechnya.

Boris Berezovsky, a Russian dissident and tycoon who was at Litvinenko's bedside on Friday, told The Associated Press he suspects Russia's intelligence services of the poisoning.

"It's not complicated to say who fights against him," Berezovsky said in a telephone interview. "He's (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's enemy, he started to criticize him and had lots of fears."

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