German government says Navalny was likely poisoned

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Russia’s opposition politician Alexei Navalny was likely poisoned, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.

“The suspicion is… that somebody poisoned Mr Navalny – that somebody seriously poisoned Mr Navalny – which, unfortunately, there are some examples of in recent Russian history, so the world takes this suspicion very seriously”, Seibert said, and added: “Because there is a certain probability of a poison attack, protection is necessary”.

On Thursday, Navalny was rushed to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, after drinking a cup of tea that his spokeswoman said she believed was laced with poison. German air ambulance landed in Omsk on Friday with the intention of flying Navalny to Germany for treatment, but the hospital’s head doctor said he was too unstable to move.

Navalny’s team complained authorities wanted to stall for time so that any trace of what poisoned him would disappear. After more than 24 hours of wrangling between German and Russian medics, Navalny left Russia early Saturday on a flight bound for Germany.

Berlin’s Charite hospital said in a statement that “clinical evidence suggests an intoxication through a substance belonging to the group of cholinesterase inhibitors”. Doctors who treated Navalny in Russia said the substance was not present.

Navalny, 44, is a fierce critic of president Vladimir Putin. He has endured multiple incarcerations in recent years, a barred attempt to run for president, and a hamstrung bid for the Moscow mayor’s post. Navalny and his allies have been preparing for Russia’s regional elections scheduled for next month.

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