ukranian opposition leader poisoned

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    By Emma Griffiths and Reuters

    Supporters of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko are demanding a full criminal investigation after medical tests confirmed he was poisoned during the country's recent presidential election campaign.

    Doctors suspect the poison was given to Mr Yushchenko by a third party.

    Mr Yushchenko's once healthy-looking face is severely pockmarked and grey.

    Some reports claim he is in so much pain he needs regular doses of morphine.

    Until now, the cause of his illness had remained a mystery.

    Mr Yushchenko long alleged he was poisoned as part of a plot to kill him, while his opponents suggested he had eaten bad sushi.

    Now his doctors say there is no doubt he was poisoned.

    "There is no doubt," said Dr Michael Zimpfer, president of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic where Mr Yushchenko is being treated.

    "There were high concentrations of dioxin, most likely orally administered."

    He said the dioxin poisoning had been confirmed on Saturday by a laboratory in Amsterdam, which had analysed a blood sample.

    At first Dr Zimpfer declined to comment on whether the dioxin could have been due to accidental poisoning or contamination, and said it was a question for the Ukrainian authorities.

    But later he said the hospital believed it had been a deliberate act of poisoning.

    "We suspect a cause triggered by a third party," Dr Zimpfer said.

    "It would be easy to administer in a soup that contains cream," he said, adding that dioxin was very soluble and can spread quickly through the body.

    Dr Zimpfer says it will take years for Mr Yushchenko's body to rid itself of the dioxin, an industrial agent that was found in Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the US military to defoliate jungles in the Vietnam War.

    People can be exposed to dioxin in food or it can be inhaled from dust or a spray without the victim knowing.

    It can cause abnormal liver function, tiredness, nerve conditions and impotence.

    Mr Yushchenko's wife, Kateryna Chumachenko, say she never doubted that her husband had been poisoned.

    "I knew from, I would say, the very beginning that he was poisoned," she said.

    "We had received threats before it happened. We continued to receive threats because I think there are many people who consider my husband and the changes he would bring to Ukraine of great threat to them personally."

    Mr Yushchenko faces Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich later this month in a re-run of November's presidential election, which was found to be tainted with widespread fraud.

    But he insists the illness will not effect his ability to work if he is elected president.

    Dave R.
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