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Former Russian Spy Dies of Radiation Poisoning in London

Calling it unprecedented, a British official says former Russian Spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned by radiation. For VOA News, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Leading British health officials have determined that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, a strong critic of President Vladimir Putin, died from a massive dose of the radioactive substance, polonium-210.

That conclusion has come from the analysis of urine samples taken from Mr. Litvinenko.

Roger Cox, a chief scientist at Britain's Health Protection Agency, says polonium-210 can produce fatal results if ingested, is breathed in or enters the body through a cut.

"Then it will rapidly track through the body and goes to most organs within the body and if the dose were to be sufficiently high, one would expect to see tissue damage characteristic of radiation," he said.

Alexander Litvinenko defected to the West and was granted asylum in Britain six years ago. Shortly before he died, he dictated a statement directed at President Putin. Part of that statement was read out Friday by Litvinenko's close friend, Alexander Goldfarb. It accuses the Russian leader of being behind the poisoning.

"You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed," he said. "You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value."

Meanwhile, at a Russian-European Union Summit in Helsinki, Russian President Putin denied that the Kremlin had anything to do with the death of Litvinenko.

"I deplore this and I would extend my condolences to the family of Mr. Litvinenko," he said. "Now as far as I understand the medical statement of British physicians, it does not say that this was the result of violence, that this is not a violent death so there is no ground for speculation of this kind."

The chief executive of Britain's Health Protection Agency, Dr. Pat Troop, says both her department and the police are now examining various locations in London that Litvinenko visited on the day he became sick, just over three weeks ago, and the two hospitals where he was treated.

"We are concentrating on the hospitals because that is where the deceased spent most of the time once he was ill and that is where we are doing our sampling and that is where we are looking at staff," she said. "But of course we are also looking at other locations where he may have been in contact just before he was ill and the police are advising us of people there that we need to assess."

Those other locations include a restaurant, a hotel and Litvinenko's home.