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Ukraine: Yushchenko Convinced He Was Poisoned By 'Those In Power'

Ukraine's opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has said he is certain that authorities in Ukraine poisoned him. Yushchenko made the remarks in Kyiv late yesterday after returning from a Vienna clinic where doctors confirmed the cause of his mysterious illness as dioxin poisoning. The doctors said the toxic substance probably was put into Yushchenko's food. In his remarks, Yushchenko did not specify who he thinks poisoned him. But both Yushchenko and his American-born wife have spoken in recent weeks about a dinner he had with Ukrainian security officials just hours before he became ill. Ukrainian authorities have denied any involvement.

Prague, 13 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yushchenko said he wants Ukraine's prosecutor-general to determine the truth about how he was poisoned.

But the 50-year-old opposition candidate for president said that the investigation, which was reopened yesterday, should be delayed until after a repeat of Ukraine's presidential election on 26 December. Yushchenko said he doesn't want the findings to influence the election.

"I am convinced that this [poisoning] is the work of those in power. Absolutely convinced," Yushchenko said. "Time is now needed for the investigation. A lot of the circumstances are already known. I think that if the prosecutor-general's office acts according to Ukraine's laws, both the country and the world at large will soon know who did this."

Yushchenko was speaking late yesterday after returning to Kyiv from Vienna, where doctors confirmed that his blood contains about 1,000 times the normal amount of dioxin.

Today, Ukraine's parliament reopened its own investigation into the matter.

Yushchenko said the evidence of dioxin poisoning has made it essential that investigations be continued.

"I think what was said at the clinic, I mean establishing that poisoning in fact took place, changes the case," Yushchenko said. "I therefore welcome the step taken by the prosecutor-general."

The Austrian physicians say it is impossible for them to determine exactly when Yushchenko ingested the poison. But one of those physicians, Dr. Michael Zimpfer, said 12 December that he suspects dioxin was put into something Yushchenko ate.
The menu included a dish of fermented mare's milk, sushi, crayfish, rye bread, watermelon, sweet cakes, wine, cognac, and home-distilled vodka.

"It would be quite easy in fact to administer this amount [of dioxin] in a soup that contains cream because of the issue of fat solubility," Zimpfer said. "As relates to the circumstances regarding a criminal investigation, this doesn't fall within our purview. We have made a final diagnosis as well as an additional diagnosis that we suspect a cause triggered by a third party. There is the suspicion of third-party [outside] involvement."

Yushchenko and his American-born wife have said in recent weeks that he began to feel ill a few hours after he ate dinner with Ukrainian Security Service chief Igor Smeshko and his deputy Vladimir Stasvuk.

The dinner was served at Stasyuk's countryside cottage in early September. The menu included at least one creamy dairy product -- a dish of fermented mare's milk called "koumiss." It also included sushi, crayfish, rye bread, watermelon, sweet cakes, wine, cognac, and home-distilled vodka.

Yushchenko has told journalists that he developed a headache several hours after eating the dinner and was struck by a severe stomachache about 12 hours later.

Ukrainian security officials and government authorities have denied any involvement.

Yushchenko's political opponents have suggested he simply ate a bad plate of sushi that was washed down with too much cognac. But Yushchenko has rejected that notion, saying the dinner did not include any spoiled food.

Ukrainian physicians initially thought Yushchenko was suffering from a flu or from exhaustion. Four days after his symptoms emerged, Yushchenko was transferred for the first of three visits to the Rudolfinerhaus medical clinic in Vienna.

Yesterday, Dr. Zimpfer said doctors failed to recognize the cause of Yushchenko's illness during his earlier visits to Vienna because the tell-tale sign of dioxin poisoning -- the yellowish-colored acne -- didn't break out on his skin until later.

"It has not been observed anywhere else before hand because the oral way of ingestion elicited a complete different picture at the very onset," Zimpfer said.

Marc Siegel, an associate professor at New York University's School of Medicine who specializes in internal medicine, told RFE/RL that confirmation of dioxin in Yushchenko's blood leaves no doubt that Yushchenko was intentionally poisoned.

"Why is it that they weren't able to kill him if he was poisoned? Siegel said. "The answer is that a person's response to dioxin is actually somewhat unpredictable. Some people metabolize it faster than others. Some people metabolize it better than others. So they may have made enough of it thinking that they were actually going to kill him with this. And yet, his personal metabolism was able to get rid of enough of it so that he survived."

Siegel said that Yushchenko's skin disfigurement, stomach illness, and other current health problems are likely to disappear with time and proper treatment. But Siegel said that prolonged exposure to dioxin raises larger concerns about Yushchenko's future health.

"What may happen is, unfortunately, there seems to be evidence that prolonged dioxin exposure increases your risk for cancer," Siegel said.

Siegel also said that Yushchenko could be debilitated for long periods as a result of his continued use of prescription pain medication.