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Poisoned former Russian spy Litvinenko dies

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Nov 24: Friends of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko accused ''evil forces'' in Russia today of being responsible for his death in London overnight, saying he had been poisoned three weeks ago as an act of revenge.

Russia said it was silly to suggest the Kremlin had orchestrated a plot against 43-year-old Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Litvinenko's death yesterday occurred on the eve of an EU-Russia summit in Helsinki at which Putin is now likely to face media questions about the former spy that could overshadow the main agenda of how the two sides can improve ties.

''He was fighting against the evil forces in Russia, against the KGB, against the authorities which are suppressing democracy and liberal freedoms in Russia,'' Oleg Gordievsky, a friend of Litvinenko, told Sky television.

''He became a victim of ... revenge and malice of those forces in Russia,'' said Gordievsky, also a former Russian agent who defected to Britain.

Litvinenko, who lost all his hair and suffered major organ failure, had been fighting for his life in intensive care. ''The medical team did everything possible to save his life,'' said University College Hospital spokesman Jim Down.

Doctors said Litvinenko had been poisoned but did not know the exact form, having ruled out earlier suggestions it was caused by a heavy metal such as thallium or by radiation. One doctor said the identity of the poison may never be known.

British police said they were investigating what they called the ''unexplained'' death and that anti-terrorism officers were working on the case. Litvinenko spoke to police from his hospital bed before his condition deteriorated.

If Russia was found to have had a hand in his poisoning there could be far-reaching diplomatic consequences. It would be the first such incident known to have taken place in the West since the Cold War. ''THE BASTARDS'' ''The bastards got me. But they won't get everybody,'' Litvinenko told friend and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov before losing consciousness earlier this week. The comments were published in today's Times newspaper.

Litvinenko, who fled to Britain in 2000 with his wife and son and was granted asylum, said he fell ill after meeting two Russians at a hotel.

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

A source in the Russian delegation with Putin in Helsinki told reporters: ''It is a human tragedy. The man was poisoned.

''But the accusations towards the Kremlin are so unbelievable, they are too silly to be commented on by the president or anyone from the Russian side,'' said the source, asking not to be identified.

Litvinenko served in the KGB's counter-intelligence department and then the Federal Security Service's (FSB) highly secret organised crime group. The FSB is the main successor organisation to the Soviet KGB and deals with internal threats.

In 1998, he turned on his former comrades and said at a Moscow news conference -- with men in masks who claimed to be Russian secret service men -- that senior FSB officers had planned to murder Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

He was arrested several times by his former employers at the FSB but was freed by a court and charges were dropped.

Litvinenko, who became a British citizen on October 1, co-wrote a 2002 book ''Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within'', in which he alleged FSB agents coordinated apartment block bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people in 1999.

Russian officials blamed the bombings on Chechen guerrillas.


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