Three in U.K. tested for radiation after spy death


LONDON (Reuters), Nov 27 - Three people have been sent to a special clinic for radiological tests following the death of a former Russian spy in London, a spokeswoman for Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) said on Monday.

She said more than 450 people had called a government hotline for health advice after the death of Alexander Litvinenko, whose body was found to contain a poisonous radioactive isotope, and 18 had been passed on to the HPA.

"Of those 18, three have been referred as a precaution to a special clinic for radiological assessment," she said, declining to comment on their symptoms.

Highly radioactive polonium 210 was found in the body of Litvinenko, who died last week accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of murdering him, and traces of radiation were found at his home, a restaurant, and a hotel he had visited.

Health officials have offered tests to members of the public who have visited those places.

The Kremlin has described the allegation as ridiculous, and Putin said the death was being used for "political provocation."

Asked if anyone else was suffering from radioactive poisoning or contamination, the HPA spokeswoman said that based on the information at hand, "the answer would be no, but as a precaution we've referred (the three) to this special clinic."

The 15 others will undergo standard tests such as analysis of urine samples, she said.

Local authorities said an inquest was expected to open on Thursday into the death of Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who died after a three-week illness during which all his hair fell out, his body wasted away, and his organs failed.

Scotland Yard police are investigating the case as a suspicious death, and the affair has raised tension between London and Moscow.

Senior cabinet minister Peter Hain on Sunday condemned "murky murders" that had taken place in Putin's Russia and criticized "huge attacks" there on individual freedoms and democracy.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said on Monday it was premature to jump to conclusions.

"The prime minister and other ministers have repeatedly underlined our concern about some aspects of human rights in Russia," he said. "In terms of this particular case, however, we do have to proceed carefully. There is a police investigation ongoing and we have to await the outcome."

Litvinenko was a Russian dissident who became a British citizen last month.

By Mark Trevelyan

Last Updated: 2006-11-27 11:00:51 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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