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AP: Yushchenko sure government poisoned him
Updated: 2004-12-16 21:35

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday that he was sure he was poisoned by the Ukrainian government and believes it most likely happened at a dinner he had with the country's top security service officials.

Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko speaks to members of the media during a press conference in Kiev, in this Friday, Nov. 19, 2004 file photo. [AP]
Yushchenko's comments, made in an interview with The Associated Press, were the first time he pinpointed when and where he believed he was poisoned with dioxin. He said it likely happened at a Sept. 5 dinner with the head of the Ukrainian security service, Ihor Smeshko, and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk.

"That was the only place where no one from my team was present and no precautions were taken concerning the food," he said. "It was a project of political murder, prepared by the authorities."

A parliamentary commission that investigated Yushchenko's mysterious illness in October said he had complained of pains including a headache about three hours after the meal and an acute stomachache the next day after meeting with Smeshko. The commission, however, also listed other places he ate or drank that day.

Yushchenko, whose face was disfigured by poisoning, told The AP that Ukrainian prosecutors were looking into the case and said he was confident the official culprits would be punished.

"I have no doubt that within several days or weeks, this path will lead to the authorities, to specific people representing the government who administered the poison, who was involved, from whom the poison was procured," he said. "Who blessed it on different levels of government?"

Members of Yushchenko's campaign team had spoken of the security dinner as a possible site of the poisoning, but Yushchenko himself had until now refrained from pointing the finger at specific officials.

Experts say it is impossible for Yushchenko to have naturally acquired such high levels of dioxin. New tests reveal the level in his blood is more than 6,000 times higher than normal and is the second highest ever recorded in human history, said Abraham Brouwer, professor of environmental toxicology at the Free University in Amsterdam, where blood samples taken in Vienna were sent for analysis.

Brouwer's team has narrowed the search from more than 400 dioxins to about 29 and is confident they will identify the poison by week's end.

Speaking on other subjects Thursday, Yushchenko voiced hope that if he wins the Dec. 26 presidential rerun, he would make efforts to turn a new page in relations with Russia, which heavily backed his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, he said Ukraine would move to integrate more closely into European structures and possibly aim at an associate membership in the European Union in three-five years.

He voiced confidence that Ukraine would not split, but reaffirmed the need to punish regional officials in mostly Russian-speaking eastern provinces who had pushed for self-rule.

Earlier, Yushchenko told a news conference that he believed his opponents were planning provocations that could jeopardize the presidential vote scheduled for Dec. 26.

Yushchenko did not say what kind of provocations, but said they were being planned in eastern Ukraine, a largely Russian-speaking region where people support his opponent, Yanukovych.

"There is not a 100 percent guarantee that the election will take place," he said. "I know of provocations being prepared in the eastern regions."

Yushchenko has been working hard in recent days to expand his base of support from western parts of the country, where Ukrainian nationalism is strong, to the eastern areas.

The two men face a presidential contest Dec. 26. Ukraine's Supreme Court ordered a rerun to be held on that date after ruling that a Nov. 21 presidential runoff election was flawed by fraud.

Yanukovych's campaign manager Taras Chornovyl has said in the past that the prime minister's allies were prepared to go to Kiev after the rerun vote "to protect the people's choice." Although he said that some 300 non-governmental organizations were ready to stage street protests, he said that the campaign doesn't want "conflicts and clashes."

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