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Poison victim Yushchenko ready for election battle; Ukrainian candidate leaves hospital.

Byline: LIAM CHRISTOPHER

UKRAINIAN presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko left a Vienna clinic yesterday after being diagnosed with dioxin poisoning, declaring he was happy to be alive.

Wearing his trademark orange campaign scarf, the Ukrainian opposition leader flashed the peace sign out of the window of his car before driving off from Vienna's Rudolfiner clinic. He later left on a plane bound for Kiev.

Yushchenko has accused Ukrainian authorities of poisoning him, but told reporters he does not want to talk further about the allegation until after the run-off vote has been re-run on December 26.

``I don't want this factor to influence the election in some way, either as a plus or a minus, '' he said in Russian. ``This question will require a great deal of time and serious investigation. Let us do it after the election - today is not the moment. ''

Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation after Yushchenko fell ill, but closed it before the November 21 second round of voting, saying that they could not determine whether he was poisoned.

However, the criminal case has been reopened following the Vienna clinic's findings, an official at the prosecutor general's office said yesterday.

At a brief news conference before being discharged from the clinic, Yushchenko praised the thousands in Ukraine who staged street protests against the outcome of the presidential run-off election won by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The vote was voided by the Supreme Court on fraud allegations.

``We haven't seen anything like that for the past 100 years, '' he said. ``I think it would be appropriate to compare this to the fall of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall. ''

Yushchenko thanked the medical staff who determined he had been poisoned, which caused him extreme internal pain and left his face pocked and grey.

Doctors said had the dose of dioxin been greater, it could have been fatal but that he was now getting better and was capable of returning to the campaign trail.

``They've spent many days and nights with me and I am very happy to be alive in this world today, '' Yushchenko said, with his American-born wife, Kateryna Chumachenko, translating. ``I thank these people for this. ''

Before leaving the clinic, a choir of young girls sang the Ukrainian national anthem for Yushchenko.

After doctors confirmed that he was a victim of poisoning, Yanukovych campaigners rushed to reject suggestions that the prime minister could have been involved.

There was ``no logic in such an accusation, '' said Taras Chornovyl, Yanukovych's campaign manager.

Yushchenko's wife said on Saturday that she and her husband had received threats and she had been convinced from the start that he was poisoned.

Yushchenko fell ill on September 5 and has been treated at the Vienna clinic twice before, but it was tests performed since he checked in on Friday night that provided conclusive evidence of the poisoning, said hospital director Dr Michael Zimpfer.

A lab in Amsterdam, using a newly-developed test, found his blood contained more than 1, 000 times the normal amount of dioxin, Zimpfer said.

Tests showed the toxin was taken orally, and was likely slipped into something that Yushchenko ate or drank, Zimpfer said, suggesting that whoever was responsible may have thought it untraceable.

``Until recently, there has been no (blood) testing available, '' Zimpfer said. ``This may be one of the reasons that this kind of poisoning, if it was a criminal act, was chosen. ''

The tests definitively confirmed suspicions that the doctors had developed over the course of Yushchenko's treatment, Zimpfer said.

``This is the first case internationally where the intake has been oral, usually it's inhaled, it's very different, '' he said.

Dioxin is a by-product of industrial processes such as waste incineration and chemical and pesticide manufacturing.

The massive quantities of it found in Yushchenko's system caused chloracne, a type of adult acne caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. The condition is treatable, but can take two to three years to heal.

Given the sensitivity of the case, Zimpfer said his clinic wanted to be absolutely sure before making any sort of announcement.

``We are not dealing with simple pimples, we are dealing with a poisoning and the suspicion of third party involvement, so potentially a criminal case, '' he said.

Zimpfer said Yushchenko's treatment will now be ``very difficult and long''.

Among other things, Dioxin is known to cause cancer and Dr Nikolai Korpan, the physician who has been treating Yushchenko, said it is too early to tell what other problems might develop. ``For now, we can confirm that his health is very good at this moment and he can do his job, '' Korpan said.

CAPTION(S):

Viktor Yushchenko gives the peace sign as he leaves hospital; Picture: RONALD ZAK
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 13, 2004
Words:786
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