Russian doctors say no poison detected in jailed opposition leader
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Russian doctors say no poison detected in jailed opposition leader

Alexy Navalny, one of Putin’s most vocal critics, pushes back against claim he had an allergic reaction

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking to a crowd during a political protest in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking to a crowd during a political protest in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Doctors at a Russian state facility on Wednesday said they had found no traces of poison in jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was hospitalized at the weekend with suspicious symptoms.

Navalny’s personal physician said Monday his condition suggested “poisoning by some unknown chemical substance” after he was rushed to a hospital from jail, where he is being held over an unauthorized protest.

However Alexei Tokarev, head of the state Sklifosovsky Institute for Emergency Care, which has a toxicology lab, said the lab ran Navalny’s samples and “poisoning substances were not found,” according to Russian news agencies.

Navalny was sent back to his jail cell Monday despite the protests of his doctor, who said he could be at risk of coming into contact with a poison again there.

Riot police officers detain a protester during an unauthorized rally demanding independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run for office in local elections in September, at Moscow’s Trubnaya Square on July 27, 2019. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV /AFP)

The jailed politician — one of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics — said the official explanation of his symptoms as an “allergy” did not make sense as he had never suffered from any allergies.

Others in the Russian opposition voiced concern that it may have been an attempt on Navalny’s life, the latest such case of an opposition figure falling ill with unexplained symptoms.

Among them is Pyotr Verzilov, an activist with Russian protest punk band Pussy Riot who experienced sudden loss of vision and disorientation in 2018 and recovered in Germany. “When I was unconscious and dying in Sklifosovsky institute, doctors didn’t find anything either. But two days later German doctors concluded that I was poisoned,” he tweeted Wednesday. Doctors at Berlin’s Charite hospital had said it was “highly probable” that Verzilov had been poisoned.

Alexei Navalny, center, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, who was detained by police and charged with unlawfully organizing a public gathering, leaves a court in Moscow, Russia, July 24, 2019. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

Another survivor of poisoning was opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who fell into a coma in 2015 and was sent abroad for treatment.

Navalny was arrested several days before a major opposition rally on Saturday that ended with nearly 1,400 people detained. He is currently serving a 30-day sentence for calling an unsanctioned protest.

At least 21 people including Navalny’s supporters and journalists were briefly detained outside the hospital late on Sunday.

Navalny has been the Kremlin’s most formidable foe since 2011 when he led a massive wave of protests against Putin and his party. He has since been convicted on two sets of criminal charges, largely regarded as politically motivated, and spent numerous stints in jail for disturbing public order and leading unsanctioned protests.

Baton-wielding police on Saturday wrestled with protesters in arguably the largest unsanctioned protest in Russia in a decade. Opposition activists as well as ordinary Muscovites took to the street to vent their anger over officials’ decision to exclude a dozen independent candidates from the ballot for the upcoming vote for the Moscow city legislature.

More than 1,400 people were taken into custody on Saturday, including several would-be candidates. Two of them, Ilya Yashin and Dmitry Gudkov, face a court hearing later Monday.

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