Sun, Dec 12, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Doctors `closing in' on Yushchenko's mystery illness

AP , VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Doctors were closing in on the cause of the mysterious illness that has struck Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, the head of the clinic where he is being treated said yesterday.

Physicians began running new tests on Friday evening, when Yushchenko was admitted for a third time to Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic, hospital director Dr Michael Zimpfer said.

Doctors expected to know what had caused the illness later yesterday or today, Zimpfer said, adding: "We're closing in."

"We started last night to do the entire imaging, including nuclear medicine, to look at the function of the organs, skeletal system and to see what kind of damage might be hiding," he said.

Doctors were also investigating Yushchenko's blood to check for any signs of poisoning.

The illness has disfigured Yushchenko's face, leaving it swollen, ashen and pockmarked. Such damage could indicate that he suffers from chloracne sparked by dioxin poisoning, Zimpfer said, adding that doctors were investigating the "assumption that he was poisoned."

"We're on a good way to solve this difficult case," he said.

Yushchenko has accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to poison him in the run-up to last month's fraudulent presidential election. Ukraine's Supreme Court voided the outcome after Yushchenko lost to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and a rerun of the ballot will be held on Dec. 26.

The opposition candidate first fell ill in September and was rushed to the Vienna hospital. He resumed campaigning later in the month, his face already showing damage.

"Actually, he was very lucky that he was brought to Vienna because doctors said if he would stay another 24 hours in Ukraine, it could be a `final solution,' so called," Oleh Rybachuk, Yushchenko's chief of staff, said in a televised interview on Friday night for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on US public television.

"And now after taking two treatments in Vienna, he has fully recovered, as [the] doctor says, but he needs a certain rest and he needs to take care of this effects on his face which they call residual. But actually, internally there are no more damages so he has been cured internally," Rybachuk said.

Yushchenko told reporters on arrival Friday that he would stay at the clinic until tomorrow, unless tests were finished before then.

"Everything is going well. I plan to live for a long time and I plan to live happily. I am getting better health every day," said Yushchenko, wearing a scarf in his orange campaign color.

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