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Yushchenko: Authorities behind plot

Diagnosis is 'rock solid,' doctor says


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Recovering from dioxin poisoning, Yushchenko looks ahead to elections.

Doctors say dioxin is responsible for the illness that has afflicted Yushchenko.
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(CNN) -- Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko says he is convinced Ukrainian authorities were behind the attempt to poison him with dioxin, but has declined to name anyone specific.

Yuschenko returned to Kiev early Monday from Austria, where he underwent tests to confirm the nature of the poisoning.

"Investigation will take some time," he said, speaking at Kiev airport. Yushchenko noted Ukraine's prosecutor-general has reopened an investigation into his illness.

"If (the) General Prosecution of Ukraine will act according to the law, as I hope, Ukraine and the whole world will know who was in charge of it."

Meanwhile, the doctor who oversaw Yushchenko's treatment in Vienna said Sunday that the diagnosis of dioxin poisoning is "rock solid," but added that more information must be obtained before medical authorities can determine his prognosis.

Dr. Michael Zimpfer told CNN Sunday that he based his conclusion on a physical examination of the patient and "various blood tests" carried out at Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus Clinic and elsewhere.

Zimpfer told reporters over the weekend that the concentration of dioxin in Yushchenko's body was "1,000 times above the normal levels" and that he suspected "third-party involvement."

"We have sent samples to a lab within Europe and also to labs across the Atlantic Ocean that claim to have vast experience, and they came up with the results," Zimpfer told CNN late Sunday.

Yushchenko has "a tremendous amount of dioxin in the blood," Zimpfer said, so much that "it's beyond the scale."

Yushchenko has previously accused Ukrainian authorities of having tried to poison him in the run-up to November's fraudulent presidential election.

Ukraine's Supreme Court voided the outcome after Yushchenko lost to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, and a rerun of the contest is slated to be held December 26.

The 50-year-old, then-telegenic campaigner was taken to the Vienna hospital in September, when he first fell ill. He resumed campaigning later in the month but with a pockmarked and badly disfigured face.

"I have heard a lot of stories and legends on how this poison has been delivered, where it has been produced, which secret services were used for delivering it in Ukraine," Yushchenko said early Monday.

"I am not eager to comment (on) all this stuff, because it's a very delicate point. I do not want to put any shade on somebody, before it was established by the court."

Given what little medical information has been released publicly, Yushchenko could have been exposed to any of about 20 dioxins or dioxin-like chemicals, said Dr. Arnold Schecter, professor of medicine at the University Texas School of Public Health at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. (Dioxons background)

"I don't know if they're talking about one or all the dioxins," he said. "Some persist for decades ... some of the others start leaving the body very rapidly and will be completely gone in a few years, not a few decades."

In addition, it was not clear whether the test used to verify the presence of dioxin in Yushchenko's blood was carried out by one of the approximately 40 such laboratories certified by the World Health Organization to analyze dioxin in blood, he said.

But Zimpfer would not divulge the names of the laboratories that carried out the tests or the details of their findings, citing privacy concerns and sensitivity by some government agencies that they could be perceived to be taking sides in the political debate.

Dioxin exposure can cause a host of ills, including irritability, insomnia, headaches, cramps, lethargy, cancer, underactive thyroid and diabetes, said Schecter.

Zimpfer, who trained as an anesthesiologist and is director of Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus Hospital, which discharged Yushchenko Sunday, said: "With regard to the distribution and elimination from the body, the kinetics of the poison in the body and also the final prognosis, we still are lagging behind."

Yushchenko suffered not only liver damage but damage to his gastrointestinal tract, small and large bowel, stomach and pancreas, Zimpfer said.

Still, Zimpfer said Yushchenko is in good spirits and feels good, though he remains on pain medication, is taking topical medication for his facial lesions and a medication intended to block the reuptake of dioxin by the liver.

"He's in perfect strength, planning to go skiing in the near future and, in case he gets elected, he certainly has the strength and the mental vigor to run (the country)," said Zimpfer, who added that he supports neither side in the political contest.

In September, when the symptoms first emerged, doctors did not suspect dioxin exposure, and instead diagnosed the facial rashes to be rosacea, a common skin disorder, Zimpfer said.

But suspicions that something else was occurring grew after the rash deepened into pock marks and Yushchenko soon developed overwhelming back pain. The cause of that pain remains a mystery, though it has largely subsided, Zimpfer said.

Stumped as to the cause, Zimpfer said he appealed in early October to international colleagues for help. He recently sent blood samples to laboratories in the United States, elsewhere in Europe and Russia, he said.

Though the Russian government scientists never responded, others helped him make the diagnosis, he said.

Still, a diagnosis is not a prognosis, and a reliable one could be critical for voters who must decide this month whether to make Yushchenko their president.

"We have so little to go on that you can't make an intelligent prognosis," Schecter said. "If it's a really small amount (of dioxin), there won't be all that much damage very long. If it's a very large amount, he could be very much under the weather for years."

While only rarely used as a poison, dioxin can be easily obtained from any chemical supply house or it can be synthesized in a fairly simple procedure by a chemist, Schecter said. "One drop will do it."

The development is political dynamite in what has been a turbulent political few weeks in Ukraine, an election process that has drawn international attention with the West-leaning Yushchenko vying with the Russian-backed Yanukovich, in what has been seen as almost a proxy cold-war dispute.

State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said the United States has "seen the reports" and "are deeply concerned about these findings."

"We urge Ukrainian authorities to investigate this matter. We hope for Mr. Yushchenko's full recovery. We look forward to a free and fair election that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people on December 26th."


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