Blair Minister Accuses Putin Of Attacking Democracy

Journalists peer into London's Itsu sushi restaurant, where ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko said he met a contact before becoming ill. Police found traces of radioactive polonium-210, believed to have caused his death.
Journalists peer into London's Itsu sushi restaurant, where ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko said he met a contact before becoming ill. Police found traces of radioactive polonium-210, believed to have caused his death. (By Matt Dunham -- Associated Press)
By Karla Adam
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, November 27, 2006

LONDON, Nov. 26 -- A British cabinet minister on Sunday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "huge attacks on individual liberty and on democracy" as British officials investigated the mysterious poisoning death of a former Russian spy.

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland minister and a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet, told the BBC that Putin's record had been "clouded" and referred to the "extremely murky murder of the senior Russian journalist" Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed last month in Moscow.

Hain did not directly address the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a Putin critic who died Thursday in London from a dose of radioactive polonium 210, according to British health officials. British police have called Litvinenko's death "suspicious."

Litvinenko had told police he believed he had been poisoned while investigating Politkovskaya's death.

According to his friends, Litvinenko dictated a statement from his deathbed in which he blamed Putin for his poisoning. Putin has denied any involvement.

British health officials said Sunday that several hundred people have contacted a hotline for people concerned that they may have come in contact with Litvinenko or the radioactive substance. Trace amounts have been found in a London hotel and at the Itsu sushi restaurant Litvinenko visited Nov. 1, the day he became ill.

Litvinenko met an Italian contact, Mario Scaramella, at Itsu, which is on Piccadilly Street. On Sunday, the restaurant was boarded up with black slabs of wood. Police said it was being "decontaminated."

"No customers have reported any illness or sickness, but if they ask, we tell them to call the hotline," Glenn Edwards, operations manager, said in an interview outside the restaurant. Edwards said his entire staff, including himself, had been tested and that "everyone was fine."

At the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, three police officers stood in front of the revolving door, and more milled around the lobby.

Brian Kelly, the health and safety manager at the hotel, said the bar where Litvinenko reportedly met two Russian businessmen had been closed. But Kelly said it was "business as usual" at the hotel, where weary-looking travelers were checking in their bags seemingly oblivious to the investigation.


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