Fri, Dec 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Poisoning of former Russian spy probed as murder inquiry

INTERNATIONAL CASE Terrorism Command investigators met with a witness in Moscow on Wednesday, in spite of Russia's discouragement

AFP , LONDON

British police said on Wednesday that they were now proceeding with their investigation into last month's poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko as a murder inquiry.

Litvinenko fell ill on Nov. 1 and died on Nov. 23 in a central London hospital.

Unexplained large amounts of the radioactive isotope polonium 210 were discovered in his urine.

DISCORD WITH RUSSIA

Litvinenko's death has triggered a large-scale international investigation, meetings of the British government's top security Cabinet and appeals for Russia to provide assistance to the probe.

British investigators were in Moscow probing the death and met a witness in the case on Wednesday amid signs of discord with Russian prosecutors in the inquiry.

"Detectives investigating the death of Alexander Litvinenko have reached the stage where it is felt appropriate to treat it as an allegation of murder," London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

"Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Command are pursuing many lines of inquiry, both in the UK and Russia, and have spoken to a number of witnesses in connection with the death," the statement said.

NO FAST CONCLUSIONS

It cautioned, however, that detectives were keeping an open mind and were methodically following the evidence.

"It is important to stress that we have reached no conclusions as to the means employed, the motive or the identity of those who might be responsible for Mr Litvinenko's death," the statement said.

It added that the inquiry was still in its early stages and that the police were not prepared to comment on "speculative reports" in the media.

DEATHBED STATEMENT

In his deathbed statement, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime for his death.

The dissident was to be buried in a Muslim ceremony in or near London today.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office in London confirmed that traces of radiation had been found at Britain's embassy in Moscow.

"Expert teams concluded their precautionary checks in the embassy. They found no danger to public health," a spokesman from the Foreign Office said.

"Small traces of radiation were found but below levels at which it becomes a risk to health and the embassy is working as normal."

Traces of radiation have been found at 12 locations around London.

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