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Reports Conflict On Condition Of Litvinenko Contact

Dmitry Kovtun (right) pictured during a radio interview on November 24 (epa) December 7, 2006 -- There are conflicting reports tonight about the condition of a key figure in investigations into the poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former Russian secret agent and a vociferous critic of the Kremlin.

Russia's Interfax news agency, quoting unnamed sources, says Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun is in a critical condition in a Moscow hospital. The agency says Kovtun fell into a coma today immediately after being questioned by Russian investigators and British detectives.

However, Western news agencies quote Andrei Romashov, a lawyer for Andrei Lugovoi, another witness in the Litvinenko case, as saying that Kovtun is in satisfactory health and that media reports that he is in a critical condition are wrong.

Earlier today, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office said Kovtun "has also been found to have an illness connected with poisoning with a radioactive nuclide."

Kovtun met Litvinenko in London on November 1, the day Litvinenko fell ill. Litvinenko died on November 23 in London from radiation poisoning, and was buried in London today.

Earlier today, Britain's Health Protection Agency says seven workers at a London hotel where Litvinenko had met Kovtun and another Russian have tested positive for polonium-210. Polonium-210 was the radioactive isotope toxicologists found in the body of Litvinenko.

(Reuters, AP, AFP)

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