Litvinenko suspect wants to be Russian president

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MOSCOW, Sep 17 (Reuters) The Russian wanted by Britain on suspicion of killing Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko said today he would stand for election to parliament and would like to become president of Russia.

Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB security service officer, said he would represent the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), which is headed by ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

He denied seeking immunity from prosecution that election to parliament would give him. Russian prosecutors have said there was no basis for a criminal case against him, he said.

When asked by a reporter what other political aspirations he had beyond being a member of parliament, Lugovoy said with a smile: ''Like any other citizen of the Russian Federation, I would like to be president.'' LDPR, headed by Zhirinovsky since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, has 30 seats in the 450-seat lower house. Russia holds a parliamentary election in December and a presidential election in March.

British prosecutors want to extradite Lugovoy from Russia to face trial in London for the murder of Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital on November 23 after receiving a dose of radioactive polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic isotope.

Lugovoy has always protested his innocence and says he has been caught up in a deadly game of international intrigue that Britain is trying to manipulate to damage Russian interests.

Lugovoy could receive immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament if LDPR was to receive the minimum 7 per cent of the vote required to enter parliament.

Zhirinovsky, who has attracted wide media attention with his fierce rhetoric and sometimes clownish behaviour, denied seeking Kremlin approval for having Lugovoy as a candidate.

UNDERMINE RUSSIA Litvinenko was a former Russian security service officer exiled in Britain. In a posthumous letter, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his death, a charge the Kremlin denied.

Standing in front of a large world map, Zhirinovsky said Britain had for centuries been trying to undermine Russia and that he was glad to have Lugovoy in the party.

Britain and Russia have each expelled four diplomats in a spat over Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoy to Britain. Russia's constitution forbids the extradition of its own citizens.

Lugovoy lashed out at British authorities for trying to ''scandalise'' the case and said his political ambitions could hardly damage Russian-British relations further.

''How can you make them (relations) worse -- they have already made them as bad as they can get,'' Lugovoy said.

Lugovoy, who served in the KGB and its main domestic successor, said his party was the only one to address properly the issue of talented officers leaving the armed forces.

Zhirinovsky said his party was the natural choice for members of the military and special forces.

REUTERS AM BD2255

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