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Efforts Under Way To Send Comatose Kremlin Critic Navalny Abroad For Treatment

By RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time August 20, 2020

Efforts are under way to evacuate outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny from Siberia to Germany for treatment after he has fallen into a coma, suspected of having been poisoned.

Navalny felt ill while on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, forcing the aircraft to make an unscheduled landing in Omsk, also in Siberia, where he was transported by ambulance to a hospital, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is still on a ventilator, in a coma in grave condition in an intensive care unit in Omsk, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted on August 20.

Yarmysh said she believed the politician was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea he had bought at the Tomsk airport.

"We assume that Aleksei was poisoned with something mixed into the tea. It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid," Yarmysh said.

Purported audio of Navalny moaning in pain on the flight:

Anatoly Kalinichenko, a doctor at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No.1 where Navalny is staying, told reporters that Navalny was in serious, yet stable condition, and that medics were working to "save his life."

However, he said there was "no certainty that the cause of his condition is poisoning," adding, "This is one of the possible reasons" and that several diagnoses were being considered as tests are carried out.

But Yarmysh complained that doctors "are obviously stalling and aren't saying what they know," adding the hospital was full of police officers.

"The hospital already has more police than doctors. Investigative Committee just arrived," she said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny could get medical treatment in her country shortly after German media reported that activists supporting Navalny are working on getting him to Berlin.

She said Germany would provide medical assistance, including making its hospitals available, if it was asked to help Navalny.

"I hope he recovers quickly, and if asked to we will provide him with medical assistance, including German hospitals, but the request has to come from there," she told reporters at a joint news conference in southern France with President Emmanuel Macron.

"What is particularly important is that the circumstances behind this are cleared up very quickly," she added.

Macron said France stood ready to provide help in terms of Navalny's health, asylum or protection.

Navalny supporters have received permission for him to be treated at Berlin's Charite hospital, film producer and human rights activist Jaka Bizilj told the dpa news agency.

An ambulance aircraft with a team specialized in treating coma patients is ready to leave Germany to pick Navalny up at midnight, Bizilj said.

Meanwhile, Yarmysh said that the Russian health authorities had yet to grant permission for Navalny to be transported from the Siberian city of Omsk.

Navalny's wife, Yulia, arrived at the hospital in the afternoon, but doctors would not let her see her husband because she did not have their marriage certificate, according to Yarmysh, who quoted hospital officials as saying that her passport was not sufficient to prove they're married.

Later, a representative of the Alliance of Doctors, Irina Kwasko, said that Yulia Navalnaya was nevertheless allowed into Navalny's ward.

One of the doctors attending to Navalny, Anastasia Vasilyeva, told Meduza that she and Navalny's wife were trying to obtain medical records and arrange for the politician to be transported to Moscow.

According to her, Navalny did not receive the tests necessary for a diagnosis.

The Kremlin said it was aware that President Vladimir Putin's chief critic was ill and wished him well, but that there was no evidence yet to back claims he had been poisoned.

Amnesty International demanded in a statement that "authorities fully investigate the circumstances of the unexpected and critical deterioration of the health of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and allow him to immediately be diagnosed by and receive treatment from doctors that his family trusts."

Natalia Zvyagina, director of Amnesty International's Moscow office, said on August 20 that "given the grave allegations that have been suggested as the cause of Aleksei Navalny's illness, there must be a prompt and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his hospitalization."

Navalny's illness conjures up images of a long line of similar incidents over Vladimir Putin's 20 years in power, where outspoken Kremlin opponents are suspected of having been poisoned.

Some of those, such as the case of Aleksandr Litvinenko, have ended in death.

Litvinenko, a former intelligence officer and vocal Kremlin critic who had been granted asylum in Britain, died after meeting with ex-KGB agents in a London hotel late in 2006. U.K. investigators later concluded that he had been killed after his tea was laced with the rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210.

The state news agency TASS quoted a source as saying that when the opposition blogger was admitted to the hospital, the preliminary diagnosis was "acute poisoning with psychodysleptics.

Navalny's physician, Yaroslav Ashikhmin, told Meduza that he "needs to be evacuated to Europe" for treatment, adding, "We're trying to reach an agreement with a hospital in Hanover or Strasbourg to take him."

Ashikhmin also said that Western clinics had a better chance of finding the substance that may have caused the alleged poisoning.

The cafe where Navalny bought the tea was in a tightly secured area after check-in and security controls.

A law enforcement source told TASS that interviews with workers from the shop showed they knew little about what happened.

A picture on social media appears to show Navalny with some other passengers as they took a bus to the plane for boarding.

Pavel Lebedev, a passenger on the flight where Navalny fell ill, said that at the start of the flight Navalny "went to the toilet and didn't return."

"He was really sick and is still screaming in pain. They didn't say what exactly happened to him. We landed in Omsk. Ambulance arrived," he added in a post on social media.

Navalny, a staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin, has exposed rampant corruption in Russia.

He has been jailed several times in recent years, barred from running for president, and had a bid to run for Moscow mayor blocked.

Navalny has suffered physical attacks in the past.

He endured chemical burns to one of his eyes in 2017 after he was assaulted with antiseptic dye.

In July 2019, Navalny was given a 30-day jail term after calling for unauthorized protests. During that jail sentence, he was taken ill to a hospital with severe swelling of the face and a rash, and later alleged he was poisoned.

"Obviously, they did the same to him now," said Yarmysh, the press secretary for the Anti-Corruption Foundation Navalny founded in 2011.

The head of the foundation's legal department, Vyacheslav Gimadi, wrote on Twitter, "There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned for his political position and activity."

Navalny's lawyers are requesting a probe into attempted assassination, he added.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, President Donald Trump said U.S. officials were looking at the reported events.

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said he was "worried to hear about Alexei Navalny's suspected poisoning."

"If confirmed, those responsible must be held to account," he tweeted, adding that he wished the Kremlin foe a "swift and full recovery."

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would closely follow the investigations into the cause of Navalny's illness, while the Le Monde daily said France was ready to host Navalny so that he can receive the appropriate medical care.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said he was "deeply concerned" by reports on Navalny.

With reporting by TASS, ngs55.ru , AP, and Reuters

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-s-navalny-being- treated-for-suspected-poisoning- spokeswoman-says/30793191.html

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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