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Russian spy service denies poisoning ex-agent

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Nov 21 (Reuters) Russia's spy service said today it had had no hand in the poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko -- and wished him a speedy recovery.

Litvinenko, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service (FSB) who has been an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, fell ill after meeting a mysterious contact in a London sushi restaurant.

Toxicology reports now show he was poisoned by thallium, which can cause a slow, painful death over the course of weeks or months, even with treatment.

''We continue to deny our involvement in the incident which happened to the former employee of the FSB Alexander Litvinenko,'' Sergei Ivanov, a spokesman for Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service, told Reuters.

The SVR is the main successor to the KGB's first department, which organised Soviet intelligence operations overseas.

Britain has put its anti-terrorist police on the case, which could have huge diplomatic repercussions if high-level Russian involvement was shown. The Kremlin yesterday dismissed such talk as ''pure nonsense''.

''There is absolutely no interest for us in occupying ourselves with such activities. Of course everyone has worth, but this person is not worth enough ... to poison the atmosphere of warm relations between Moscow and London,'' Ivanov said.

The SVR spokesman said it was still unclear what happened to Litvinenko in London but wished him well.

''We can only guess about the real reasons for what happened to this young man ... with his whole life ahead of him. May God give him health.'' Pictures released of Litviknenko on Monday showed him strapped to medical equipment in hospital, wan and bald. Hair loss is one of thallium's effects.

The hospital said Litvinenko's condition had deteriorated slightly overnight and he had been transferred to intensive care.

Doctors say he has only a 50/50 chance of surviving.

REUTERS PDM MIR KP1908

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