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Doctor Says Yushchenko Poisoned With Dioxin

Doctor Says Yushchenko Poisoned With Dioxin

Susanna Loof, Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria — Dioxin poisoning caused the mysterious illness of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, a doctor said Saturday, adding that the poison could have been put in his soup.

Yushchenko is now in satisfactory condition and dioxin levels in his liver have returned to normal, Dr. Michael Zimpfer, director of Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic, said at a news conference.

A series of tests run over the past 24 hours provided conclusive evidence of the poisoning, Zimpfer said."There is no doubt about the fact that Mr. Yushchenko's disease — especially following the results of the blood work — has been caused by a case of poisoning by dioxin," Zimpfer said.

The 50-year-old opposition leader first fell ill in September and was rushed to the Vienna hospital. He resumed campaigning later in the month but his mysterious illness had left his face pockmarked and ashen.

Yushchcenko also suffered back pain, acute pancreatitis and nerve paralysis on the left side of his face.

He has accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to poison him ahead of Ukraine's presidential vote — an allegation they have denied.

"We suspect involvement of an external party, but we cannot answer as to who cooked what or who was with him while he ate," Zimpfer said, adding that tests showed the dioxin was taken orally.

Zimpfer said Yushchenko's blood and tissue registered concentrations of dioxin — one of the most toxic chemicals — that were 1,000 times above normal levels.

"It would be quite easy to administer this amount in a soup," Zimpfer said.

Blood tests have been run on Yushchenko before, but this time the hospital sent the samples to a hospital in Amsterdam which is using a new analysis method that could test it for dioxin, Dr. Nikolai Korpan said.

Korpan added that no functional damage would remain and Yushchenko was "fully capable of working."

Yushchenko's supporters expressed little surprise Saturday as the medical report spread through the protesters' camp in Independence Square.

"Everybody knew he was poisoned so we didn't really need official tests," Anatoly Klotchyk, 19, who stood in the sleet outside his tent near the square.

A former representative for rival candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on the Central Election Commission, Stepan Havrysh, questioned the medical conclusions, saying that while he felt sorry for Yushchenko, "I'm afraid, two weeks before the vote, it's all political technologies."

Taras Chornovyl, Yanukovych's campaign manager, also rejected the notion that the prime minister was involved, saying there was "no logic in such an accusation."

Kremlin representatives were not available for comment.

When first seen by the Austrian doctors, Yushchenko was in a "critical stage" but was "not on the verge of dying," Zimpfer said.

"If this dose had been higher, it may have caused death," Zimpfer said.

Dioxin — one of the contaminants found in Agent Orange — is formed as a by-product from industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching.

The tests showed that Yushchenko suffered from chloracne, a type of adult acne caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, which sometimes takes two to three years to heal, hospital dermatologist Hubert Pehmberger told The Associated Press.

Dioxins are a normal contaminant in many foods, but a single high dose can trigger illness, London-based toxicologist John Henry said last month.

Shortly after the announcement of the diagnosis on Saturday, Henry told British Broadcasting Corp. television that Yushchenko's case was, in his experience, unique.

"We've never had a case like this, a known case of large, severe dioxin poisoning ... It's normally fairly mild. It can cause liver damage," he said. "It's usually low-level, long-term poisoning. A very large dose, nobody has any real idea of what it would cause. Now we do know."

Yushchenko had returned to the hospital later in September for further treatment and checked in for a third time Friday.

Dr. Nikolai Korpan said "no functional damage will remain."

Citing fraud, Ukraine's Supreme Court voided the outcome of the Nov. 21 runoff vote, which Yushchenko lost to Yanukovych. A rerun of the ballot is slated for Dec. 26.

Arriving at the hospital Saturday afternoon, Yushchenko's wife Kateryna Chumachenko said she was convinced from the start that her husband was poisoned.

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

Yushchenko arrived at the hospital in a convoy of three cars, surrounded by bodyguards.

"Everything is going well. I plan to live for a long time and I plan to live happily. I am getting better health every day," said Yushchenko, wearing a scarf in his orange campaign color.

Earlier in the race, Yushchenko had refused to let doctors take biopsies of his facial tissue and reportedly said he did not want to have his face bandaged while campaigning.

Going to Austria provided him an opportunity to determine conclusively what happened, said Markian Bilynskyj, a Kiev-based analyst.

"He can afford to miss a couple of days," Bilynskyj said. "The critical stages were before the first and the second round (of elections. Should he become president, he would have to dispel any doubts of his health."

[More about dioxins here.]