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Friends Say Health of Poisoned Spy Worse

November 23, 2006

LONDON (AP) _ The grave health condition of a poisoned ex-Russian spy deteriorated dramatically Thursday as heart failure left Alexander Litvinenko on life support and sent family members rushing to his bedside.

Litvinenko, a fierce critic of the Russian government, remains under heavy sedation, a family friend said, as doctors struggled to determine what sickened the 43-year-old. Doctors have virtually ruled out thallium and radiation _ toxins once considered possible culprits behind the poisoning.

``Despite extensive tests, we are still unclear as to the cause of his condition,″ said Dr. Geoff Bellingan, director of critical care at University College Hospital.

Litvinenko believes he was given poison on Nov. 1, while investigating the slaying of another Kremlin detractor _ investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

His hair has fallen out, his throat is swollen and his immune and nervous systems have been damaged. A friend, Andrei Nekrasov, said Litvinenko’s skin had turned yellow, a possible effect of liver failure.

Another family friend, Alex Goldfarb, joined Litvinenko’s wife Marina, his son Anatoli and the former agent’s father by his bedside.

``He went into a cardiac failure overnight and the hospital put him on artificial heart support,″ Goldfarb said. ``He’s on the ventilator, he’s getting artificial resuscitation.″

Anti-terrorist police were investigating the poisoning, which friends and dissidents allege was carried out at the behest of the Russian government. Litvinenko sought asylum in Britain in 2000, and has been a relentless critic of the Kremlin and the Russian security services ever since.

On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, issued its strongest denial yet that it was involved in any assassination attempt. ``Litvinenko is not the kind of person for whose sake we would spoil bilateral relations,″ SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov said, according to the Interfax news agency. ``It is absolutely not in our interests to be engaged in such activity.″

Litvinenko worked both for the KGB and for a successor, the Federal Security Service. In 1998, he publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky _ now exiled in Britain _ and a year later spent nine months in jail on charges of abuse of office, for which he was later acquitted, and which prompted his move to London.

On the day he first felt ill, Litvinenko said he had two meetings. In the morning, he met with an unidentified Russian and with Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB colleague and bodyguard to one-time Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar at a London hotel. Later, he dined with Italian security expert Mario Scaramella to discuss the October murder of Politkovskaya.

Scaramella told reporters in Rome on Tuesday that he had traveled to meet Litvinenko to discuss an e-mail he received from a source naming the killers of Politkovskaya, who was gunned down Oct. 7 at her Moscow apartment building, and outlining that he and Litvinenko were on a hit list.

Goldfarb said that he had a photocopy of the four-page e-mail and confirmed that it did read like the hit list described by Scaramella.

``What’s in there confirms what Scaramella said. It lists several targets for assassination, among them are Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Scaramella, Berezovsky and others,″ he said. But he refused to say who compiled the document, saying that it could jeopardize the police investigation into the poisoning.

After visiting the hospital on Thursday, Berezovsky told the AP that British police have yet to speak to him, but hoped they would be in contact over the next two days. The police declined to comment about whether they had the e-mail.

Goldfarb said Wednesday that there was nothing out of the ordinary in Litvinenko’s meeting with Lugovoy, who also worked as bodyguard to Berezovsky, the most high profile Russian exile in London.

Litvinenko has refused to implicate any of the people he met on the day he believes he was poisoned.

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