Russian Navalny in a coma, allegedly poisoned by poisonous tea

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MOSCOW – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, remained in a coma in a Siberian hospital on Thursday, the victim of what his allies said was Kremlin-designed poisoning . Nvalny, 44, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk and was taken to hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, the door said. – Voiced by Navalny, Kira Yarmysh, on Twitter.

She told radio station Echo Moskvy he must have consumed poison in tea he had drunk at an airport cafe before boarding the plane early Thursday. During the flight, Navalny started to sweat and asked him to speak to him so that he could “focus on the sound of a voice”. He then went to the bathroom and lost consciousness, and has been in a coma and on a ventilator in serious condition ever since.

Other opposition figures were quick to suggest the Kremlin’s involvement.

“We are sure that the only people who have the capacity to target Navalny or myself are the Russian security services with final authorization from Russian political leaders,” Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the protest group Pussy Riot, who s’ was found in intensive care after suspected poisoning. in 2018, told The Associated Press. “We think Putin is definitely a person to give the green light in this situation. ”

Doctors at Omsk Ambulance No.1 Hospital, where the politician was being treated, remained tight-lipped about his diagnosis, saying only that they were considering various theories, including poisoning. Local health officials said they had found no indication that Navalny suffered from a heart attack, stroke or coronavirus.

Authorities initially refused to let Navalny’s wife, Yulia, see her husband and rejected requests for documents that would allow him to be transferred to a European hospital for treatment, Yarmysh said.

Verzilov, who was flown to Berlin for treatment there in 2018, said hospitals in Omsk or Moscow would not be able to treat Navalny properly and expressed concern about possible pressure from medical services. security to which doctors could be subjected in Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was necessary to wait for test results showing what caused Navalny’s condition, adding that authorities would consider a request to allow Navalny to leave Russia, who did not fully open their borders after a coronavirus lockdown, for treatment.

The Tass state news agency reported that police were not considering deliberate poisoning, a statement that allies of the politician rejected.

Reports of the suspected intoxication have made waves in the West.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France was ready to offer Navalny and his family “all the assistance necessary … in terms of health care, asylum, protection” and insisted on the need to clarify this that happened.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a joint press conference with Macron, echoed her sentiment.

“Obviously, Germany will allow him to have all the necessary medical aid also in German hospitals,” said Merkel. “What is also very important is that it will be urgently clarified how this could happen to the situation. ”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and the United Nations have also expressed concern over what happened to Navalny, and Amnesty International has demanded a full and thorough investigation.

The widow of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian agent who was killed in London by radioactive poisoning in 2006, expressed concern that Navalny’s enemies in Russia may have decided it was time to use a “news” tactical ”.

“Maybe they decided to do a new tactic not to just stop him with an arrest, but to stop him with poison. It sounds like a new tactic against Navalny, ”Marina Litvinenko told The Associated Press in Sicily, Italy.

Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Navalny has been frequently arrested by law enforcement and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was assaulted by several men who threw an antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.

Last year, Navalny was rushed to hospital from prison, where he was serving time following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning. Doctors then declared that he had had a severe allergic attack and sent him back to prison the next day.

The Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation has denounced corruption among government officials, including some at the highest level. Last month, he had to shut down the foundation after a financially devastating trial of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Navalny last week of staging unprecedented mass protests against his re-election that rocked Russia’s former Soviet neighbor since August 9. He did not provide any evidence, however, and that claim was one of many to blame foreign forces for the unrest.

The most prominent member of the Russian opposition, Navalny, campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was not allowed to run.

He set up a network of campaign offices across Russia and has since promoted opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of Russia’s ruling United Russia party. One of his associates in Khabarovsk, a city in the Russian Far East that has been engulfed by mass protests against the region’s governor arrest, was arrested last week after calling for a strike during of a rally.

In the interview with Echo Moskvy, Yarmysh said she believed the alleged poisoning was linked to this year’s regional election campaign.

Vyacheslav Gimadi, an attorney for the Navalny Foundation, said the team asked the Russian investigative committee to open a criminal investigation. “There is no doubt that Navalny has been poisoned due to his political position and activities,” Gimadi said in a tweet.

Commentators say Navalny has become increasingly dangerous for the Kremlin as Putin’s approval rating plummets to an all-time high of around 60% amid the coronavirus pandemic and growing public frustration with the to the downturn in the economy.

Navalny’s ability to mobilize voters against pro-Kremlin candidates poses a particular challenge ahead of the 2021 parliamentary elections, said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst.

“The Duma elections are particularly important for the Kremlin” because the new Duma will operate in 2024, when Putin’s current presidential term expires and he may announce his candidacy for re-election, Gallyamov told the PA.

“This is why control of the next State Duma is of crucial importance to the Kremlin. Navalny really makes it harder for the Kremlin to establish that control, ”Gallyamov added.

At the same time, Navalny, who rose to prominence by exposing corruption across Russia, may have other enemies, Gallyamov said, and could have been targeted by people in one of his investigations, if he was indeed deliberately poisoned.

Navalny is not the first opposition figure to have fallen victim to a mysterious poisoning.

In 2018, Verzilov spent a month in a hospital, recovering from suspected poisoning with an unknown substance. He told the AP that Navalny’s first symptoms – loss of coordination, pain, fainting – were very similar to his.

Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was hospitalized twice for symptoms of poisoning – in 2015 and 2017. Prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya was also reportedly poisoned in 2004 – two years before she was murdered.

On Thursday evening, activists from several Russian cities demonstrated in support of Navalny. In St. Petersburg, a crowd of around 100 gathered in the city center and several supporters were arrested.

“It was actually in the authorities’ interest to protect him,” Yegor Batozhok, 34, a municipal deputy from St. Petersburg told the AP. “But for some reason a number of those who criticize the authorities are poisoned. ”

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Associated Press writers Irina Titova in St. Petersburg, Angela Charlton in Paris, Pan Pylas in London, Alexander Roslyakov in Moscow and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin have contributed.

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