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Poisoned Russian ex-spy deteriorates - hospital

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in London three weeks ago, has suffered a sudden turn for the worse and is now very seriously ill, the hospital treating him said today.

''There has been a major deterioration in Mr Litvinenko's condition overnight. He is now in a very serious condition and remains in intensive care,'' London's University College Hospital said.

The 41-year-old critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin says he fell ill after meeting two Russians at a hotel.

He had been investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, also a vocal critic of Putin, who was gunned down at her Moscow flat on October 7.

Alexander Goldfarb, a friend of the London-based former agent, told British Broadcasting Corporation radio that Litvinenko's wife was rushing to the hospital.

''Apparently he is now on the artificial heart system,'' he said.

''He had a catastrophic fall of his blood pressure last night and probably cardiac arrest.'' The BBC also reported that three unexplained ''objects of dense matter'' -- one of which had seemingly ruptured -- had been found in Litvinenko's stomach.

Goldfarb said an X-ray had been taken yesterday, but no one had told Litvinenko's wife of any objects being found.

Litvinenko's friends accuse the Kremlin of orchestrating a plot to poison him, but Russia has dismissed the allegation as ''nonsense''.

Litvinenko has lost all his hair and is suffering major organ failure. The toxicologist treating him has said the poison may have been laced with a radioactive substance to render it more lethal.

Litvinenko, now a British citizen, co-authored a book in 2002 entitled ''Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within'', in which he alleged Federal Security Service (FSB) agents coordinated apartment block bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people in 1999.

Officials blamed the bombings on Chechen rebels.

REUTERS AB KN1517

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