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Yuschenko arrives at hospital for tests
Updated: 2004-12-11 17:07

Doctors were closing in on the cause of the mysterious illness that has struck Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, officials said Saturday.

Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko answers journalists'questions as he arrives at Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus hospital for medical treatment, December 10, 2004. [Reuters]

Physicians began running new tests Friday evening, when Yushchenko was admitted for a third time to Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic, hospital director Dr. Michael Zimpfer said.

Doctors expected to know what had caused the illness later Saturday or Sunday, Zimpfer said.

"We started last night to do the entire imaging, including nuclear medicine, to look at the function of the organs, skeletal system and to see what kind of damage might be hiding," he said.

Doctors were also investigating Yushchenko's blood to check for any signs of poisoning.

The illness has disfigured Yushchenko's face, leaving it swollen, ashen and pockmarked. Such damage could indicate that he suffers from chloracne sparked by dioxin poisoning, Zimpfer said, adding that doctors were investigating the "assumption that he was poisoned."

"We're on a good way to solve this difficult case," he said.

The presidential candidate has accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to poison him ahead of last month's vote an allegation they have denied.

He said he would stay at the hospital until Monday, unless the tests were finished before then.

"I plan to live for a long time and I plan to live happily. I am getting better health every day," he said.

Yushchenko, 50, first fell ill in September and was rushed to the Vienna hospital. He resumed campaigning later in the month but with a pockmarked and badly disfigured face.

His chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, told PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" that Yushchenko has fully recovered from his unidentified ailment but "needs a certain rest and he needs to take care of this effect on his face, which they call residual."

"Internally there are no more damages," Rybachuk said.

Rybachuk also said Yushchenko was fortunate to receive earlier treatment in Vienna.

"He was very lucky that he was brought to Vienna because doctors said if he would stay another 24 hours in Ukraine, it could be a 'final solution,'" he said in comments broadcast Friday.

Earlier this week, doctors said they were testing several theories as to what caused Yushchenko's ailment, including poisoning.

"However, we have not found any indication that a chemical or biological substance has been employed," Zimpfer said.

On Friday Zimpfer said doctors "cannot exclude poisoning" but added:

"Theoretically it could be that we never can prove poisoning because he only came here a few days after the symptoms appeared. On the other hand, there are poisons that stay in the body a long time."

Yushchenko suffered from a series of symptoms, including back pain, acute pancreatitis and nerve paralysis on the left side of his face.

If Yushchenko's disfigurement turns out to be chloracne a type of adult acne caused by exposure to toxic chemicals it could take a long time to clear, Zimpfer said. Sometimes it takes two to three years for people to heal.

Ukraine's Supreme Court voided the outcome of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff election, which Yushchenko lost to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, following allegations of massive vote fraud. A rerun of the ballot is slated for Dec. 26.

Yushchenko told reporters in Vienna that he was confident of winning the election and that, in reality, he had already done so.

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